Romelu Lukaku… and what makes such a good striker
Romelu Lukaku is what you would call a proper striker. A danger man. A true number 9.
This season, his riveting form for Everton has made him a prime target for both Manchester United and Chelsea; Jose Mourinho has said that his side are lacking a striker with a ‘killer’ instinct. Even Barcelona are on the watch.
And around a month ago, the Belgian attacker reportedly turn down the most expensive contract ever offered by his club in their history, supposedly worth £140,000. It seems that he is putting it on hold until the prospect of European football is in the bag for the Toffees — who haven’t finished within the top four since the 2004–05 season.
Currently, he is running away with this season’s Premier League golden boot — leading second placed Harry Kane by four goals — having been his club’s top scorer for the past three seasons. His form of late has led to many pundits agreeing that he is a ‘class above’ the rest of his team, and it was only a matter of time before the giants came calling.
It was an indisputable mistake and a massive failure of judgment when Chelsea let him leave for Everton in 2014 after a promising previous loan season at the club, where he scored fifteen league goals in thirty-one games. Now, they want him back.
But just what makes one player so lucrative? Why is Romelu Lukaku at the top of everyone’s list right now? And what, most importantly, is it about him that makes him such a good striker?
An obvious one to start with, of course, but one thing that every striker needs is a lot of practise in their industry. And I mean a lot.
Lukaku’s attributes as a striker are probably unmatched by most players in the Premier League — one of these being that he is very good at finishing. When one on one with the keeper, you can always bank on him to find the spot — right in the corner. Just like a darts player, he will have trained a lot on hitting the bullseye every time — making many of his shots clinical and out of reach of the goalkeeper.
His heading ability is also second to none — a trait which can add five or ten goals to a striker’s tally per season.
He loves being a striker
Some players are known for being able to play in a multitude of positions, take James Milner for example: he’s played on the left, right and centre of midfield and is now a firm choice starting left back for Liverpool. Known as utility men, managers love these players for filling holes when other players are injured.
But Lukaku is the complete opposite. He loves scoring goals. And it almost seems like he was born to do it. And managers love players like these too — who they can start every week and hardly need to give any instruction too — because they churn out goals like a machine.
Because Lukaku loves playing upfront, it means that he has focused all his training on being the best striker he can be. He may not be as much use in midfield, but it does mean that when he gets the ball in a dangerous position, he is going to score 50% of the time. It also means that he doesn’t waste energy doing jobs on the pitch that are unnecessary.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic said this week that one of the reasons he has gotten better at scoring goals with time is because his older legs mean that ‘he doesn’t waste energy on doing things he doesn’t really need to do’.
With some players, managers may find them lazy for not helping the team out when off the ball or not moving about the pitch as much as they maybe could. But there are no complaints when a player like Lukaku does his job and produces every time at the other end of the pitch.
He buys the ticket
The age old footballing adage ‘if you don’t buy a ticket, you do not win the raffle’ might get on the nerves of many FIFA players these days, but in most cases, it is true.
A lot of players may be too content with pleasing their team mate with a nice lay off or through ball in a forward position, but being a good striker requires an attribute usually held in disdain in the modern game: selfishness.
Lukaku will pass when it is the best option but, as all good strikers should do, will look for a chance to shoot at any given opportunity. That means that his first thought when in and around the box will always be whether he can create space to pull off a shot in the position he’s in.
Of course, shooting whenever given the ball is not always the best idea; especially when nearer the halfway line than the goal. But he is never scared to shoot — and a lot of time, when he has a shot, it hits the back of the net.
This one comes with as much natural gift as training improves it, but Lukaku is an incredibly fit and physical player. Being blessed with height and build is one thing (he stands at 6'3" and weighs around 95–100kg — that’s over 10kg more than fellow Belgian Christian Benteke, who is the same height), but being strong and using it to your advantage as a football player is another.
Lukaku has an uncanny ability to shrug off other players — that doesn’t mean fouling them, but it means holding them off — mainly with the brute force of his shoulders. His broad chest means that most of the time, defenders get nowhere near him; and are falling off him like dominoes as he charges towards the goal.
For a tall man, he is also quick; his long legs mean he can give any defender a run for their money and in a 50–50 body challenge, he is likely to come out on top 90% of the time.
His team-mates know where he is
Many good football teams lack a player who is always where they want him to be — but Lukaku is a rare type.
Other strikers, such as Harry Kane, enjoying playing upfront but also like to dribble and be involved in play more than they should — and this means that they are sometimes not in the position they should be in to score a goal when the chance comes.
Lukaku, however, is what you would call a ‘poacher’ — not a goalhanger — but one who will always opt for tapping in across the face of goal rather than pulling back to the edge of the area when their winger is sprinting down the sideline.
This allows his team-mates to never fear someone not getting on the end of the ball — and also means they have less of a decision to make when floating or driving one into the danger zone.
He just… is a good striker
When a team wins the Premier League, a common trait of their season is that they have won a lot of games where they have not been the best side. Lukaku epitomises this — but in an individual sense.
Against Leicester on Sunday, he scored two goals to help his side on the way to a 4–2 victory. His first goal was a beautiful example of the attribute above — but his second was not pretty at all.
It came from a corner — Phil Jagielka missed the first header, but an unmarked Lukaku was lurking at the back post. He miskicked his shot into the ground — but it sent a sprawling Kasper Schmeichel the wrong way and he had yet another goal to his name.
Even when Lukaku doesn’t meet the ball with a perfect, air-cutting strike, something about his positioning, his knowledge of the game — him — will mean that somehow, the ball finds the back of the net.
And it looks like for the moment, he just won’t stop scoring.