Chelsea, Boehly, Poch: Lu4aku's latest display is a kick in your teeth
By Alessandro Schiavone at Stade Roi Baudoin
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Belgium 5-0 Azerbaijan
Goals: Lukaku, Lukaku, Lukaku, Lukaku, Trossard
As Romelu Lukaku staggeringly put FOUR past Azerbaijan to help Belgium seal top spot in their group heading to EURO 2024, there must inevitably be one big, irksome question on any Chelsea fans’ minds today: ‘Why did we not give him a chance’? Was he really undeserving of a third opportunity to prove his worth? Make no mistake, it was common knowledge that Lukaku was desperate to leave London. But did the club, Mauricio Pochettino and the player himself raise the white flag too soon? Was it not perhaps a case of insisting and laying down the law to him regardless of what HE wanted? The player has a proud record of thriving in tough situations and a good run of form may have turned his Chelsea career around. Especially with the pressure off and the stakes being low for both player and club.
Nicolas Jackson is rightly being eulogised in every corner after his hat-trick against Tottenham Hotspur. But with all due respect to the up-and-coming Senegal hotshot, who has yet to score for his country, Lukaku is in another league. And not sure if he’ll ever get there.
Yesterday Romelu did what Romelu does best: scoring goals for fun. And his five-star display will have set a few tongues wagging and heads spin around Stamford Bridge.
In a terrifically entertaining first-half contest from a Belgian point of view (or AS Roma) but not so much if you have Chelsea (or Inter Milan) ties, the Belgian ran riot as two headed goals and two missiles have now seen him hit the heights of 83 goals in 113 caps for his country as he sits only one behind Ferenc Puskas’ 84 for Hungary. He may have had a few more if head coach Domenico Tedesco hadn't hooked him at half-time to the joy of José Mourinho. But if no disaster strikes, with all the internationals and a favourable run of fixtures on the agenda next year, he’ll easily reach the centenary mark in 2024. Because what’s 17 goals for Lukaku? Misused by Chelsea, he looks like a goalscoring monster everyime he pulls on the red Belgium kit. And being eight years Cristiano Ronaldo’s junior, it’s not impossible to see him pull level or surpass the world’s all-time record goalscorer one day. Again, what’s 44 goals fot a player who has only just entered his prime? It’s 11 evenings like yesterday’s and he undoubtedly has it in him. It’s obvious that if the ageless AL-Nassr phenomenon keeps standing the test of time and continues to face small footballing nations like Luxembourg or Liechtenstein, it’s hard. But if anyone can, it’s the unwanted former Blues misfit who is unlikely to ever add to his 15 goals in west London.
And yesterday was an evening for the ages as he had never hit the onion bag four times in a single game for his country. The first and third goals were similar in that he got on the end of Jeremy Doku and Wout Faes's crosses respectively. Number two was a poacher’s finish after Fulham man headed Doku’s cross into his path with his back to goal. While he made the most of Nottingham Forest midfielder Mangala’s cute pass into space to round things off, after he himself intercepted an Azeri ball before bursting forward without the ball. If Todd Boehly, Pochettino and his staff watched his terrific one-man show against the Azeris or even just the Highlights, they'll surely harbour a few regrets thinking that they let him go. Nine goals in 14 Roma outings is also more than Jackson, Raheem Sterling, Mykhailo Mudryk have managed between themselves so far.
If the Argentine tactican (and future revolutionary of the club?) still had him, it's tempting to wonder where this in-transition Chelsea side would be right now. But most likely higher than 10th and with more points on board than 21.
When all is said and done and the dust has settled on his career, Lukaku will perhaps always be (unfairly) judged on those missed chances for Inter against Man City in the Champions League and for Belgium against Croatia at the World Cup. But he has been so much more: a goal machine who has marked the spirits of Belgian people and done something not even Paul van Himst or Luc Nilis had done before him. His natural killer instinct, ability to raise his game when half of the world has given up, believing he has entered terminal decline and how he improves everyone around him are nothing short of sublime. He's shown that any Belgian kid with talent and hunger can go on to become the no.1 even if their fridge back home is empty. Romelu Lukaku is the greatest striker Chelsea have never had and his incredible national record, whether he catches Ronaldo or not, is his forever.