Lukaku makes inspiring others his new life goal
Romelu Lukaku is already Belgium's all-time leading goalscorer, part of potentially their greatest-ever side, and Manchester United's first-choice centre-forward, although it was his life growing up that he ended up discussing.
The 25-year-old is fit, he says, after a small tweak of his ankle ligaments in the game against Tunisia and will be back in the team for the round-of-16 tie against Japan tomorrow after being rested in the win over England. Catch Lukaku when he is willing to talk and he is a warm and open individual.
It was his open letter published on the Players' Tribune website that he was asked about in particular, filling in the gaps of a life growing up in the village of Wintam outside Brussels with his brother Jordan, also in the squad, and mother Adolphine.
He talked about the lunches of bread and milk, which his mother occasionally had to water down, and the literal hunger that he felt in those early days when he would break goalscoring records to win a plate of pancakes from his coach and had his senior debut aged 16.
The challenges of his early life have been reported before but it was the scale of his family's occasional poverty, despite his father Roger's professional football career, that were particularly striking. Lukaku, himself, said he did it for all those children of African heritage who find themselves living in Europe with parents struggling with the same problems.
"It was something I had never done before," he said. "The way I grew up, people don't know the details. For me, it was difficult at the start to do it but now people know that, for me, my back was against the wall from the start. From my youngest memory, I've always had my back against the wall. I play this game of football because I have a mission. I made a promise. I love the game and when you make your passion your job and you have a job to make sure your family is OK, it is the best thing ever.
"I think players need to tell people the way they grew up. Especially as people see us as role models. Sometimes we make mistakes but at the end of the day there are a lot of people on this earth who grew up in much more difficult ways than we did. There is always a way out or a way to make it out. I found that football was my way out to help my family live the life we have today.
"For me, I just don't want my kids to grow up the way that I did. There is a lot of stuff that is still on my mind. I don't want them, or my brother's kids, to go through that. That is why I play football.
"At the end of the day it is about inspiring people. You want to inspire the young generation and I want to inspire the young generation as well."