Rumours of Arsenal move raise the inevitable questions
Predicting stars of the future is a notoriously difficult and dangerous task. It could be labelled Freddie Adu syndrome. We watch a few youtube clips, read a few tabloid headlines, and make more than a few assumptions. Next on this particular pedestal may be a Belgian striker by the name of Romelu Lukaku.
So is he a Lionel Messi, or is he a Nii Lamptey?
It is evident that there is not a blueprint for a successful transformation from wonderkid to genuine world class player. But whilst there is not a formulae, there is a logical route to maturity, providing a boy with the right surroundings in which to become a man, even in the media limelight. It is nothing more than logical, but this is football, and logic isn’t always followed.
Our question remains: Is Lukaku the real deal?
If physique and physical attributes are your query, then Lukaku is your answer. This is a seventeen year old who is 6’3” and weighs 14 stone. He is the sort of youngster that makes you ask to see his birth certificate.
Since making his Anderlecht first team debut 11 days before his 16th birthday, Romelu has consistently outjumped, outfought and outmuscled the adults around him. He may well not grow anymore, but he does not have to. Comparisons to Didier Drogba are obvious, but highly appropriate.
Whenever a new hot prospect comes on the scene, we hear of unbelievable goalscoring feats within the youth teams, and Lukaku is certainly no different. With his first club Lierse SK he scored 68 goals in 68 games, and he followed this up with 121 goals in 88 games for his Anderlecht youth teams.
However, this is not the relevant information. What is crucial is how this is transposed into first team football. To silence any doubters, in his first season, 2009/10, Lukaku was top goalscorer in the Belgian league, with eighteen goals. His superstar status amongst Anderlecht supporters was confirmed.
One of Lukaku’s difficulties is that Belgium is a country starved of recent success. They have not reached the quarter-final of a major tournament for thirty years. Being surrounded by footballing neighbours like Germany and Holland makes fans yearn for glory, and thus yearn for a superstar. Lukaku-mania is rife. As a demonstration of this, when the shirts of all the top players in Belgian football were sold last season, Lukaku’s shirt sold for more than the rest of the top ten put together.
So how does a young player deal with this pressure? Professionalism, nothing more and nothing less. However, ask Billy Kenny (google him!) and Paul Gascoigne if they dealt with their careers in a professional manner, or instead let mind and body become ravaged by fame.
Thankfully for his adoring fans, it seems that Lukaku has maturity, alongside a degree of humility. In his first press conference at Anderlecht, Lukaku was asked whether he was nervous about facing such a media storm. “Not at all” was the reply, “It is what professionals do.”
In addition to keeping feet firmly on the ground, maintaining proximity with yout family is crucial in the development of a young player, and particularly one that is likely to face intense media scrutiny. Adriano is an example of a player for whom leaving his family early has stalled a career that look destined for glory. At the age of nineteen he signed for Inter Milan, leaving Brazil and his family behind. Homesickness and depression were apparent almost instantaneously, and was only multiplied when his father died back home. Adriano twice went back to Brazil before Inter finally let him go last year.
Although perhaps not directly, Lukaku has learnt from these actions. Crucially, he has appointed his father as his ‘career counsellor’, a role that presumably allows him to be his on-field as well as off-field Dad. His father, Roger, who played professionally in Turkey and Belgium, is aware that his son will move to a bigger club, but thankfully appears to realise that it not all about the Benjamins just yet.
The final question that exists is which move the Belgian will make. We can all to easily look close to home at players such as Scott Parker, Francis Jeffers and Kieron Dyer, all of whom made moves to clubs without necessarily examining whether they were the right option. Ask Royston Drenthe whether he should have moved straight to Real Madrid from Feyenoord aged 20. He is currently on loan at Hercules (and rapping as Off the Post spotted yesterday).
The rumours concerning Arsenal can only be positive. Under Wenger, a tactician and teacher unsurpassed in world football, Romelu would be nurtured and sculpted. If the Premier League is his preferred location, then Chelsea and Manchester City would potentially provide a breeding ground to learn, and Lukaku freely admits his heroes to be Drogba and Adebayor. As a neutral, I just hope he doesn’t aim to be a Galactico by 21.
One thing is for certain, continue in the same vain and Belgium may well finally have something to get excited about.