Strictly business? Goals not love will be lost if Lukaku leaves

Lyndon Lloyd 28/06/2017  287 Comments  [Jump to last]

Another week, another flap over Romelu Lukaku and his perceived disrespect for Everton. In the absence of an international fixture where the Belgian media can probe him about his future, laser focus from fans has been on the striker's social media presence and it didn't take long for them to find another reason to get all worked up.

Back in Los Angeles on holiday this summer, Lukaku posted video of himself on Instagram taking part in a five-a-side match on a pitch emblazoned with Chelsea badges. It is, apparently, one of a few in that area that the newly re-crowned Champions have decided to sponsor — a good idea in a country where “soccer” is gaining in popularity every year — but the optics obviously weren't good given the fact that Antonio Conte is apparently trying to sign Lukaku and the player has been hinting that he already knows where he is going.

Regardless of how innocuous the situation actually was, perhaps someone with deeper ties or a greater affection for the Blues would have thought twice before posting something so potentially inflammatory but few would regard Lukaku as a genuine Evertonian. He is as prolific striker who has done exceptionally well in an Everton shirt but most supporters acknowledge that Goodison Park was only ever going to be a stepping stone for him unless the club could become the destination he seeks by qualifying for the Champions League.

There is a slight and frustrating irony that Everton's transfer business this summer indicates that we could be better placed this coming season to crack the top four than at any time since we last did 12 years ago but it's unlikely to hold Lukaku back if he can secure a dream move back to his first love, Chelsea. Evertonians will have to console themselves with the £70m to £80m the club will receive, trust Messers Walsh and Koeman to re-invest it wisely and move on.

He will be a big loss, though. Regardless of the fact that he isn't the virtually complete package he thinks he is, it's going to be incredibly hard to replace a player who not only scored 25 goals last season but was involved in many more.

It's almost unfathomable looking back on it that a club like ours, whose history boasts not only the most prolific goalscorer the English game has ever seen but some of the finest forwards to have graced the old Football League, that three decades would pass before another player after Gary Lineker managed to score more than 20 league goals in a season.

For those Evertonians who waited impatiently and frustratedly during that intervening time for Everton to find such a player, it has been easy to be a consistent supporter of Lukaku. His goals return since arriving with the Blues in 2013 has been the answer to hitherto vain prayers, even if the thirst for silverware that has been intensifying over the same 30-odd-year period has yet to be sated.

There has been adulation for Lukaku's feats in an Everton jersey but not as much genuine love and affection but while he continued to score goals, that didn't really matter. It still wouldn't really if he stayed — Everton's need to progress means that a “strictly business” approach from one or some of their players is fine.

And Lukaku always has carried the aloof air of a man who has his football career mapped out. Ambition has almost been his brand. (There was, perhaps, no bigger illustration of that than the appointment of “super agent” Mino Raiola as his agent.) It's why he is coy and mostly respectful of Everton to the domestic media but in front of the Belgian people he continually talks up his prospects and hints at leaving Goodison for a bigger stage. As their Talisman, that is what the Belgians would like to see and hear.

It reduces his ability to act indignant (as he did in response to the furore following his Instagram story from the “Chelsea pitch” and with a somewhat sarcastic video today from another venue with blank hoardings), however, because his self-promotion has always kept him at arm's length from Everton fans. From that perspective — from asserting that staying at Goodison next season “isn't an option” to teasing that he already knows what his next club is, the two-years remaining on his binding contract be damned — he has made his bed and is having to lie in it.

Rom may well get his move away this summer and Evertonians will have very mixed feelings about it. For four years, this has been a hugely productive and mutually beneficial relationship.

There is a very strong argument that, had Ronald Koeman been able to guide Everton into the top four in his first season and having persuaded the Belgian to stay for one more season, Lukaku would be putting pen to paper on a new contract at Goodison Park this month. The speculation around his future that has dragged on for weeks now would have been put to bed.

That the Dutchman had to be content — a little too content to these eyes — with a seventh-placed finish means that Lukaku has run out of patience waiting for Everton to deliver him onto the European stage he craves. It's annoying but the club has to and will move forward because no player is bigger than Everton FC.

And if his much-vaunted return to Chelsea falls through and Jose doesn't want to reunite with him at Old Trafford, he will probably come back to Goodison once more and the business of scoring goals as an Everton player will resume.

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