Saturday 21 April 2018

Lukaku spearheads Chelsea young guns' bid to unseat old guard

Romelu Lukaku scored the third goal in Chelsea's 4-1 defeat of a Malaysia XI
Romelu Lukaku scored the third goal in Chelsea's 4-1 defeat of a Malaysia XI

Sam Wallace

The trail of bright young stars who have been through Chelsea in the last seven years, signed from all over the country and all over the world, is one of modern English football's most unusual phenomena.

They have come at great expense from Europe and South America, Yorkshire and Kent, assigned to the academy or occasionally the first-team squad, and many have simply faded away.

You could argue that of all of them, Romelu Lukaku had the greatest pressure of all because, at 18, he came with a reputation as a prodigious goalscorer in Belgium's Jupiler League on a deal worth £18m.

He had been Anderlecht's top goalscorer for the two previous seasons, the youngest player at the club ever to achieve that. He started the 2011-12 season at Anderlecht, which meant that he could not go out on loan once he had joined Chelsea and subsequently all but disappeared.

Unworthy

Having made just 12 appearances in his first season, Lukaku, still yet to score for the club in a competitive game, did not even help raise the Champions League trophy in Munich because he felt he was unworthy of the honour. He was shipped out to West Brom on loan and finished with 17 league goals last season, nine more than Fernando Torres scored.

From Europe's most sought-after teenage centre-forward to the man currently leading the line for Jose Mourinho's new Chelsea on the club's Asia tour – albeit in a squad without Torres – has been a long journey. Lukaku was a sensation in Belgium but in many respects he has had to start over again and only now is he in a position to look ahead to a new season as a Chelsea player with optimism.

Mourinho likes the player and has not been afraid to say so, especially when he was trying to sign him in his Real Madrid days. Lukaku (20) seems to be at the vanguard of the new generation.

The Belgian has two goals in two games on tour already. "He is very direct and in your face – and I love that," Lukaku said of Mourinho. "It is important. If he has something to say to you, he says it.

"I am confident in my qualities and I am just keeping going like I have been doing.

"I can score more goals, I can get more assists. I can do more for the team.

"He is the manager and he has a vision of the way he wants to play.

"The players have to improve to do that. I certainly have it in me.

Lukaku would welcome the competition provided by Wayne Rooney if Chelsea can persuade Manchester United to sell them the striker.

"You know when you are playing for a team like Chelsea, there is going to be competition," Lukaku added.

"It is the manager's choice. You have to accept that you have to work hard to make it a successful squad.

"If he is part of our team I will welcome him with open arms."

Mourinho is building for the future and expects Nathaniel Chalobah to be part of it.

Chalobah spent last season on loan at Watford and will be allowed to go out on loan for one final campaign before returning to challenge for a place in the Blues' first-team squad.

Mourinho said: "He is a very, very good player. I like him very much. Very, very much. I am very impressed.

"For sure, a Chelsea player (in future), for sure. We think he is there.

"He could be in our squad already. But we think one more season and it will be his last one out on loan.

"We will see whether or not it is a Premier League club."

Mourinho may have to explain to Lukaku where he will fit into his plans should Wayne Rooney arrive from Manchester United. Rooney would not accept a move if he thought it was to play second fiddle to a 20-year-old in his first proper season at the club.

The biggest thing in his favour is that Mourinho likes him, whereas Torres, who joins up on Sunday, is yet to make a first impression on the new manager. (© Independent News Service)

Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport