Loose Belgian Lips Expose Everton's Harsh Reality

Lyndon Lloyd 13/02/2015   Comments  [Jump to last]

Another week, another flap about one of our Belgian player's apparently wandering eyes looking beyond their time with Everton.

If you talk to the media often enough and face their probing, leading questions, you're bound to say something that will hurt the supporters of the club you're currently representing. And while it's easy to suggest they shouldn't be allowed to talk to anyone, that's just not realistic anymore.

With its constant media spotlight and the public's apparently insatiable desire for coverage, it's impossible to expect players not to talk to the press. When they do, they're at the mercy of the media in terms of what gets quoted and what weight is attributed to which comments, both by the outlet in question and those consuming it.

So, following Kevin Mirallas's recent talk of wanting Champions League football and a fresh challenge, Romelu Lukaku's latest admission of ambition has caused a stir among Everton fans. It's ill-timed given our current struggles, but its tone is not inconsistent for a player with high aspirations, particularly given that he was talking to his own countrymen who would expect one of their top internationals to be playing at the highest level.

There's an inherent danger in trying to dissect or over-analyse comments attributed to a player without seeing the full transcript but if we're to take them at face value in light of the furore they're causing, then it's best to get the semantics out of the way at the outset.

If he was quoted exactly, Lukaku said he wants to one day get back to playing for a "top club". Having played for Everton for a year on loan, experienced the magic of Goodison Park, been followed around the country by our army of travelling fans and soaked in the history in which our the club is steeped, he probably knew he was joining a "big club" when he signed for us last summer.

Sadly, Everton is no longer a "top club", and there's an important distinction between the two terms. The latter description unquestionably fits those teams regularly competing for titles and in the Champions League, a dream that looked a little less distant when we just missed out on the top four last season and when the Belgian put pen to paper for us last July. Sadly, with the club mired in the bottom half of the table, things look decidedly different now and in terms of our short-term prospects, that glittering history doesn't count for much.

Had we supporters known at the time that landing Lukaku for 28m would exhaust the transfer kitty, that the acquisitions of Samuel Eto'o and Christian Atsu would disappoint so badly, and that Roberto Martinez's much-anticpated second season would go as south as it has, we might not have been exuberant as we were when he signed. But, given the fee and his goalscoring record, Everton definitely made a statement by capturing him from Chelsea and the player himself has never been shy about expressing his ambitions to play in the Champions League.

He was saying it last summer before and after the World Cup and, having joined Chelsea in a dream move as a 16 year-old and earned the title of "the next Drogba," it's only natural for a player with his strike-rate to feel like he is destined for great things. At 21 and having signed a five-year contract for a team that looked to most observers last season to be on the cusp of cracking the top four based on Martinez's impressive first season in charge, he clearly felt that he could achieve his goal of playing in the Champions League with Everton.

This train-wreck of a season may suggest otherwise but it remains a possibility that Lukaku more so than his 27 year-old compatriot, Kevin Mirallas, whose time horizon is a little shorter can achieve everything he wants at Goodison Park and we would once again become the "top club" he aspires to play for. It looks a long way off again right now but then nowhere has he said he is looking to leave any time soon.

It's natural for we supporters to want our players to fall blindly in love with our club and to commit their playing futures to us at the expense of their career ambitions but it's just not practical. As the quality of our squad improves, so increases the likelihood that we will be acquiring players with lofty goals and, yes, large egos that are augmented by the relentless spotlight and the glamour of the Premier League.

So, when asked about his future ambitions in the context of his history with Chelsea a club seemingly on course for the title and another shot at the Champions League crown and our current struggles, it should come as no surprise that a player who has always aspired to develop to one day become the best striker in the world, should talk about once again playing for a "top" club. We would love it to be Everton, but we can't expect top players to hang around and wait for us to get our act together.

It has quite obviously been a frustrating season, particularly for Lukaku who has scored 10 goals in spite of the team's poor form and a system that does him few favours. The revelation of these latest comments has seen a torrent of infective directed towards Lukaku from disgruntled supporters on websites and social media criticising his personal form and perceived failings, some of it warranted but much of it short-sighted.

Having witnessed Goodison Park become a striker's graveyard over almost three decades as an Evertonian, it's agonising watching another striker seemingly being wasted by a rigid system in which his strengths are not being accommodated. The fact that so much oxygen has been wasted in slamming him for missing that gilt-edged chance against Chelsea on Wednesday rather than acknowledging what was to these eyes, anyway a brilliant save by Peter Cech perhaps serves to highlight just how few chances he actually gets to miss.

The fact is, while he is deserving of some criticism for a lack of movement and his propensity to stray offside, Lukaku is playing in a team that has forgotten how to attack and create chances. Four goals from their last four games is testament to the poverty of ideas and imagination in the side going forward and if you thrive on putting chances away like Lukaku does, that is bound to be frustrating. Strikers can't score without service and he is getting precious little of it at the moment.

The three-year mark is usually when players begin to think about their next contract. The next two years will be illustrative of where Everton are heading and whether Romelu Lukaku will be able to fulfill his dreams with us or somewhere else. To paraphrase a tweet from earlier today, loyalty is for fans; players want to win and careers are short. If Everton want to sign and keep their top players they have to match their ambitions and become a top club again. It's that simple.

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