Romelu Lukaku is an oddly underappreciated figure. He is one of only five players to have scored 50 Premier League goals before their 23rd birthday and the fifth youngest to have scored 100 goals in the competition. At 25, he is Belgium’s record goalscorer with 40 goals in 71 appearances. Not bad going for a player many suggest is little more than a flat-track bully.
One reason for the lack of respect afforded the Belgian forward might be his style of play. The kind of traditional number nine that is no longer in vogue, Lukaku is a born goalscorer. While his first touch leaves a little to be desired, surely the sheer number of goals he scores more than makes up for such deficiencies. Modern supporters want complete footballers in every position but Lukaku would have thrived in just about any era with his unerring ability to find the back of the net.
At this World Cup, the Manchester United man scored a brace in Belgium’s opening game against Panama before adding another double in the 5-2 win over Tunisia. In doing so, Lukaku became the first player since Diego Maradona in 1986 to score two goals or more in consecutive World Cup matches and put himself in with a serious chance of winning the Golden Boot.
England are in a strange position ahead of their clash with Belgium on Thursday. There is a strong chance that winning the game (and therefore the group) would see Gareth Southgate’s side end up on the tougher side of the draw so some have suggested this might be the ideal opportunity to rest players and test out some alternative options. Winning breeds confidence, though, and one can imagine both managers will be instructing their sides to give it their all in a bid to top the group.
Lukaku may just be the man to give some England fans what they’re clamouring for – second place in the group. He’s looked remarkably sharp and composed during the World Cup and made a mockery of the notion that he can’t cut it at the highest level.
Some claim he struggles against the biggest teams but the same claims were often levelled at the likes of Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo with people seemingly unable to realise that the bigger the team, the better the defence. Very few players find it quite as easy to score against the very top sides.
It would not be surprise if the Belgian striker felt he had something to prove against England, not least because of the sheer number of people who seem to doubt him in the country in which he plies his trade. All too often he is judged on something he’s not rather than what he is – a man who consistently finds the back of the net. There is, of course, always the chance that Roberto Martinez will rest Lukaku with half an eye on the next round and that would give a clear indication of just how valuable an asset he is considered by his manager, whatever the naysayers might think.