Romelu Lukaku is one of the best young strikers in the world. His combination of pace, power, movement and brilliant finishing has drawn comparisons with a young Didier Drogba, although if anything, Lukaku is quicker. There is no doubt he has everything he needs to be world-class striker. Last season at West Brom he scored 17 goals and his goals per minutes rate was second only to Robin van Persie in the Premier League. He was also second only to van Persie in goal involvements, goals and assists, in the league. Better than Luis Suarez, better than Gareth Bale, better than Juan Mata. All of that whilst on loan at a West Brom side where he was pretty much the sole attacking threat and all at 19 years of age. He’s already done more in the Premier League than a similarly aged Wayne Rooney did before he got his £30m move to Manchester United. Chelsea have got a special talent on their hands, but what do they do with him next season?
According to this article in the Guardian Jose Mourinho is looking forwards to working with him in pre-season and is leaning towards keeping him at the club for next term. The problem is, this sits ill at ease with the swirl of rumours linking Chelsea to the likes of Edinson Cavani and Hulk, both repeated in the article. Right at this moment, Cavani is a better player than Lukaku, but that’s not to say he will be in a year or two. Cavani is as good as he is going to be, and he is world class, but Lukaku’s physical tools mean his ceiling is much higher. If they buy Cavani it will cost them £50m, which they then don’t have to spend on the defence. If they were buying Lukaku they’d have to pay about £30m given his proven output and sky-high potential. Cavani would certainly give them a better option this season, and possibly next, but Lukaku could be rampant for another decade or so. If they buy Cavani they are committed to him long term. Where would that leave Lukaku? As for Hulk, he’s not even vaguely in the same class as Lukaku. Considering Zenit paid £50m for him last summer he’s pretty much off the market unless the Russians take a huge loss. He’s not really a Mourinho type player either.
The problem for Chelsea is that they may well have to make a decision on Cavani before Mourinho has had enough time to fully appraise Lukaku with his own eyes. What happens if they delay on Cavani and some one like Man City or one of the Madrid sides move in and get him, and then Mourinho deems Lukaku not to be ready? They are then stuck with Torres and Ba again, both of whom are considerable downgrades on Cavani and certainly Lukaku in the long term.
This might mean that Chelsea sign Cavani out of fear, and that is not a way to properly conduct transfer business. If they sign Cavani they will have to let Lukaku go out on loan again. Another season on the bench will pretty much alienate Lukaku from Chelsea in future, but a season on loan at a club where can show his talents on the European stage could leave Mourinho with no choice but to play him in 2014/15. So where could he go?
The Guardian article suggests Borussia Dortmund and this would be a dream scenario for Lukaku. If they do, as expected, sell Robert Lewandowski to Bayern Munich they will have a big hole to fill. Lukaku being supplied by Marco Reus, Ilkay Gundogan and Kuba Błaszczykowski, possibly even Christian Eriksen, could be devastating. It would give him the opportunity to play in the Champions League, which is the ultimate proving ground for a young player. There is no reason why, if he can score 17 goals with the West Brom supply line, he can’t score 25-30 goals with the Borussia Dortmund supply line. If he does that, suddenly his ‘value’ is up in that £40-50m range and then Chelsea would have themselves another question to answer.
The best option for Chelsea is to roll with Lukaku this season. There isn’t enough difference in quality between any of their possible targets and the Belgian to justify not only the huge outlay but the fact that they will just be postponing any decision on Lukaku’s role with them in future. If he fails, at least they gave him a go. But, he’s got Mata, Hazard and Oscar feeding him. Chelsea should let them cause chaos with Lukaku.