Lukaku's long goodbye lacks class

By Lyndon Lloyd 23/05/2016  0 Comments  [Jump to last]

Though we dared to dream after Roberto Martinez's first season in charge, deep down most of us knew that Everton was always going to be a stepping stone for Romelu Lukaku. Unless, with his help, we were going to break that glass ceiling and qualify for the Champions League within three seasons he was probably going to move on, particularly if he could back up his confidence in his own abilities with a proven goalscoring record.

61 goals in all competitions over three seasons has done that and strengthened the CV that his restless agent Mino Raiola has no doubt been hawking around Europe's biggest and richest clubs. And in the wake of another failed quest for silverware, as depressing as it is, it seems almost inevitable that Lukaku will be moving on this summer regardless of who succeeds Martinez as Everton manager.

Like all Blues, I lauded Rom's arrival on a permanent deal in July 2014 and I defended him when he faced criticism for poor form and a lack of goals in the early part of that first season after he was signed for £28m. His ability, as raw as it was, and potential were obvious to most but much was expected of him given that hefty price tag.

In my view things were fairly straightforward. We had waited a very long time for a player capable of scoring 20+ league goals in a season – indeed, no Everton striker has managed it since Gary Lineker 30 years ago – and now we had one if the manager would just play to his strengths and provide him with adequate support.

It was Martinez's inflexibility in that regard that ultimately cost him his job and, as Lukaku's own comments this week suggest – as if it wasn't already painfully obvious by his demeanour on the field over the past couple of months – contributed to the player's poor form and inability to surpass the 20-goal milestone. Just two Premier League goals since the turn of the year offer ample explanation for why he dropped well off the blistering pace he set over the first half of the season.

Lukaku's frustrations are understandable. He was doing his job at one end while the defensive weaknesses and questionable game-management that plagued the Blues for the first two thirds of the campaign were scuppering progress at the other. Having experienced the frustrations of 2014-15 and seen 2015-16 going the same disappointing way as that season, it's no surprise that were was a divergence between the Belgian's clearly stated ambitions and Everton's prospects.

He wants to be playing Champions League football and feels he is ready to do so and that is fair enough but for someone praised for his poise and intelligence, his handling of the situation has been hugely disappointing and, frankly, disrespectful to Everton. Whether he would like to admit it or not, even allowing for how difficult it must have been to be playing under a failed system and in a clearly broken team, he did appear to "down tools" after that memorable two-goal blast against Chelsea in March. And if he didn't, he at least betrayed a desire not to do anything that might hinder his chances of playing in Euro2016 this summer.

His public comments over the past two international breaks, meanwhile, have irked and hurt Evertonians just as much as his apparent lack of effort on the field. Clearly there is merit in him expressing ambition to the media in his homeland where he has the potential to be a Talisman as Belgium and their golden generation seek to make good on their reputation as one of world football's best teams by making it to the end of a major tournament.

But there are ways to put across a confidence in your own abilities and your burning desires to be playing Champions League football without openly saying that you see yourself playing for another team by August. Sometimes saying nothing or being deliberately vague is just better diplomacy and, certainly, a better way to treat the fans who have supported you from the moment he arrived.

Football is business but it's not an ordinary business. You don't often have the option in the professional game to decide that you no longer want to play for a team and just walk away. Lukaku is contracted to Everton for another three years and will only be able to leave if the club get an acceptable offer for his services. The 23-year-old has said that he won't make things difficult or hold the Blues to ransom but unless his confident pronouncements suggest a deal has already been worked out, there is a danger it could still go that messy way. It will certainly be a lot harder for him to stay given that he doesn't even seem willing to wait and see who the new manager will be at Goodison Park before making up his mind.

That is the sad part at the end of the day. It's easy to say that fans should look at situations like this dispassionately and in the cold light of the realities of business but football, from the supporters' side – as fickle as they can be – is all emotion, passion and loyalty to the club. From those who have Lukaku's name and number adorning their replica kit to those who have gleefully sung his name there will be feelings of betrayal when they could just as easily have reluctantly wished him well had he gone about things in a more respectful way.

Evertonian feelings hardening towards a former hero will only make parting with him easier, of course, and the hefty fee he will surely command will help in that regard, too, but you can't help but feel it all could have been done with a bit more class and a lot less arrogance.

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