To round up the 2012-13 youth football season at Chelsea, we’re reviewing every single one of the Chelsea youngsters currently on the books who have spent time out on loan during the campaign. Here, we focus on Romelu Lukaku.
Club: West Bromwich Albion
Appearances: 38 (17 goals)
As Chelsea’s sole Premier League loanee, Romelu Lukaku has often taken centre stage this season with Blues fans afforded ample opportunities to watch the rampaging Belgian forward develop up at West Bromwich Albion.
The fact he weighed in with seventeen goals – a tally achieved solely in the league, where he scored two more than Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s leading league marksman – only served to add to the lengthy list of frustrations amongst supporters last season. It’s important to remember that hindsight is always 20:20 though, and at this time last season it was widely considered that Lukaku needed a spell such as this, and there were even doubts about whether he had what it took to be a Chelsea player.
His development this season has gone a long way to assuaging those concerns, and in turn will hopefully have taught a few people lessons on patience and development. In his first season in England, Lukaku barely played under either Andre Villas-Boas or Roberto Di Matteo and instead played most of his football with Dermot Drummy’s Under-21 team. He fared well, as an £18m striker probably should, but he needed top flight games badly if he was to begin to smooth out some very rough edges in his game.
Former Chelsea player, youth coach and assistant manager Steve Clarke gambled and gave him a chance in his debut season as a manager, taking him to West Brom. Instead of throwing him in at the deep end, he showed a nuanced understanding of how to go about this process – one which arguably belied his managerial inexperience – and initially used him as an impact substitute, before making him a first team regular at the turn of the year into 2013.
The end result is that Romelu now returns to Chelsea as a bona fide contender to be a first choice under whoever the next manager may be. He has run roughshod over a series of opponents this season, combining thunderous athleticism and dominant strength with intelligent link-up play and surprising creativity. His single-minded desire to improve every day stems from a professionalism rarely evident in someone of his age, and he will not rest until he’s at the very top.
If Lukaku doesn’t get his chance at Stamford Bridge next season, he won’t be satisfied to simply sit on the bench and twiddle his thumbs; certainly not in a season which concludes shortly before the World Cup. He will feel he has earned a crack at leading the line for Chelsea, and unless an expensive marquee name signing arrives, he should have the inside track on Fernando Torres and Demba Ba, neither of whom have ever really convinced.
There are certain managerial candidates who would look upon this hulking specimen and drool at the prospect of what he is capable of. Jose Mourinho helped turn Didier Drogba into one of the most feared strikers in the world and whilst comparisons between him and Lukaku are largely based on physical appearances and stereotyping, there’s little doubt Mourinho would have a lot of fun working with the 20 year-old.
Outside of Thibaut Courtois, there is perhaps no Chelsea loanee who is more ‘ready’ to return to the fold and push for a first team place. Unlike many of the others, however, there are few realistic contenders for his position standing in his way. The floor is yours, Romelu.