Welcome to World Class: Romelu Lukaku

Dec 30, 2020, 10:00 AM GMT
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For some players, you can tell from an early age that they are destined for the top.

When a 16-year-old mountain by the name of Romelu Lukaku finished as the top scorer of the Belgian Pro League in the 2009/10 season, it was quickly decided that this kid was going to take over football one day, and for a while, everyone agreed.

A move to Chelsea, and subsequent loans to West Brom and Everton, only increased his profile, and he continued to shine after sealing a permanent move to the Toffees in 2014. Records began tumbling and the hype only grew.

Then the move to Manchester United happened.

His price tag of over £75m was completely justifiable at the time. Chelsea were livid to have missed out on the chance to pay it, and United were laughing. They had found their striker for the next decade. The trophies were going to flood in.

While silverware was sparse, goals were pretty easy to come by. Lukaku bagged 42 in 96 appearances for United, but for every goal, there were thousands of memes made poking fun at the Belgian.

He might have been a good goalscorer, but the vibe coming out of Old Trafford was that Lukaku was lazy, overweight and technically inadequate, and we don't even need to mention just how ridiculed his first touch was. Instead of a superstar, he was usually compared to a donkey.

Romelu Lukaku
Lukaku didn't enjoy the greatest of spells at Man Utd | Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

United fans would have had you believe that Lukaku was a waste of money, so much so that there were celebrations when Inter were 'duped' into signing him for around £74m in 2019. The Italian side were thanked for hoovering up all United's unwanted talent.

For an average player, that abuse would be enough to derail them. His own fans were ridiculing him daily, attacking both his skill and his appearance. That should eat at you, but not Lukaku.

Now away from the most intense spotlight in football, Lukaku took the opportunity to get his head down and rebuild his reputation, and just one year later, he has more than done that.

Celebration Kiss GIF by ElevenSportsBE - Find & Share on GIPHY

The catalyst for his rebirth was the discovery that Lukaku had actually been dealing with an undiagnosed issue with his digestive system. Neither Lukaku nor United had picked up on it, and that contributed to a decline in his fitness.

He lost half a stone in just 12 days following the discovery and management of this problem, and that was it. Lukaku was happy, healthy, confident and more determined than ever, and the rest of Italy knew it was game over very quickly.

The Belgian bagged 34 goals in all competitions in his debut season with Inter, a personal best for Lukaku and equal to the record set by Brazilian legend Ronaldo during his first year with I Nerazzurri in 1997/98. Esteemed company indeed.

"In the past five months, yes. I don’t want to rank that group from one to five, but I’m part of it right now."

Lukaku on top 5 strikers in the world

He managed to drag Inter back into the Serie A title picture as well. Inter were fourth and 21 points behind Juventus in 2018/19, but in Lukaku's first year, they were second, just one point short of making history.

Most importantly, he has banished the demons of his past with United. His 'donkey' nickname is a thing of the past, and he is finally scoring a crazy amount of goals for one of Europe's best clubs - just how it was always supposed to be.

Inter fans are showing him the love Lukaku has always deserved, but it's not only supporters who have recognised his greatness. Lukaku has received praise from a number of his peers and legends of the game, including Inter hero Christian Vieri.

“In my opinion, Lukaku is the best striker in the world,” Vieri said (via Calciomercato). “Better than [Harry] Kane, [Robert] Lewandowski, and [Luis] Suarez.

“He is unmarkable. He has too much physical strength and speed compared to the others; he is a beast.

“Taking away [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo, it is Lukaku who is the best in the world in scoring goals. I put [Erling] Haaland in second place, but the Belgian is stronger. The others you can mark, Lukaku you can’t.”

If there is one knock on Lukaku's career thus far, it that he is yet to build up the kind of trophy cabinet one might expect a player of his calibre to own.

Despite boasting some of the most impressive goalscoring numbers you'll ever find, Lukaku's only team accolade is that Belgian Pro League title he won at the age of 16. He's yet to lead a team to glory at the highest level.

However, you only need to look at the stats to see how unjust that is. This is a man who has finished as top scorer in the Europa League, a man who has earned a spot in the Premier League Team of the Year and the man who sits atop Belgium's all-time scoring charts. His pedigree is clear to see.

When you rack up the kind of numbers Lukaku does, you muscle your way into the world-class bracket with ease.

For more from ​Tom Gott, follow him on ​Twitter!

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