Why Romelu Lukaku is being sold by Chelsea and why that’s the right decision 7


Romelu Lukaku seems to be very close to agreeing a move to Everton, which means that we’re all very close to a couple of days of incredulity.  Lukaku has scored goals during his two loan seasons, is still very young and, yet, Jose Mourinho has never shown any intention of giving him a chance at Stamford Bridge.

The howls of protest are already growing louder.

But is this Mourinho being Mourinho or it a reasonable and rational sale?

Really, it’s both.

The technical aspect first: Lukaku is not the player he’s appears to be.

Yes, he’s still growing and developing, but there are aspects of his game which make him fundamentally unsuited to a team coached by Jose Mourinho.  The Portuguese relies on his attacking unit to not only be talented across all the offensive aspects of his game, but also to work extremely hard - as much as we celebrate players like Eden Hazard and Oscar for what they do with the ball, what they contribute without it as equally as valuable.  Similarly, although Diego Costa’s reputation has been built on goal-scoring, that’s not really the reason why Chelsea have spent so much money on him - Costa will add goals, of course, but he also fits the Chelsea jigsaw mentally and stylistically, and that’s why he’s now at the club.

Mourinho’s criteria for a centre-forward is three-fold: goals, an ability to be the first line of defence, and the technical ability to stitch the attacking phases together.

While Diego Costa ticks all three of those boxes, Romelu Lukaku marks just one.  He’s already a proven goal-scorer, but there’s next to no evidence to suggest that he can be the blue-collared, two-way forward that the Chelsea structure demands.

He does finish impressively and when given the opportunity to gallop into open spaces he can look like a very dynamic forward, but that alone is not enough.  Watch him receive the ball in tight situations against good sides, and notice how he struggles.  Chelsea need a centre-forward who can interact with their attacking-midfielders, and Lukaku has never shown - at either West Brom or Everton - that he’s capable of doing that. ‘Link play’ isn’t just about creating chances and providing assists, it relates to a player’s ability to do more than just produce a final-ball.  Can he switch the play intelligently?  Does he really know how to hold the ball-up and create a platform from which his side can transition into offensive areas?  Can he involve himself in attacking possession without disrupting the phase’s rhythm.

Think back to Belgium’s World Cup campaign and remember how laboured they were and how little rhythm they played with.  All those stars, all that creative and goal-scoring ability, and what did it amount to?  Not very much - and that was because the two focal points they used through the tournament, Lukaku and Divock Origi, are pure strikers who still lack the all-round game of a modern centre-forward.  In fact, Belgium arguably looked far more cohesive when Origi was on the pitch and he looked the more advanced of the two in terms of the ability to recycle the ball in a productive and reliable way.  His passing was better, his runs  and general movement was more useful and more varied, and his game-awareness seemed more developed - and yet he’s played far fewer top-flight games than Lukaku and has done so at a lesser level.

There are definitely parallels there with the situation at Chelsea, because that was an example of a team needing more than what Lukaku was able to provide.  How many chances did he have in Brazil?  How often did his ability to finish become relevant?  Arguably just once - in that extra-time period against the USA, when space existed all over the pitch and he was able to run at physically drained defenders.

Belgium didn’t really need his goals over the Summer, they needed him to lay the ball off quickly, to play one or two touch football, and to create space for Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.  He wasn’t able to do that and it felt like a vindication of Mourinho’s lack of interest in him.

Being a good player and having a favourable goals-to-games ratio isn’t always enough for a forward, and so Lukaku’s production at The Hawthorns and at Goodison Park really isn’t as relevant as it’s commonly assumed to be.

Maybe the Portuguese has been stubborn in his attitude and maybe he should have taken more time to mould Lukaku into the player Chelsea needed him to be, but the Belgian’s personality has really given him an excuse not to do that.  Mourinho is all about the team and the collective unit, whereas Lukaku has time and again given the impression of being self-interested.  Over the last two years, how many interviews has he given to the press about his situation and how often has he talked out of turn about his relationship with Chelsea?  And how often have we heard comments from his agent in relation to transfers and future directions?

Whether you agree with his approach or not, it’s a known fact that Mourinho is antagonised by that kind of behaviour and there are plenty of examples that prove that.  Lukaku - unwittingly or otherwise - has done absolutely everything he could to cause himself a problem.  He’s cast himself as someone who wouldn’t tolerate sitting on the bench and as a player who lacks the required patience to learn all the different requirements of the centre-forward position.  Maybe that’s a false impression, but it’s still one that he has created.

Whichever way you look at this situation, Chelsea and Romelu Lukaku seem fundamentally unsuited to one another - personality-wise and stylistically - and so it’s difficult to make a case for their parting being anything other than in the mutual interest.

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