Romelu Lukaku is Belgium’s record goalscorer, he is the youngest foreign player to 100 Premier League goals, and, most recently, a Serie A winner. If reports are to be believed then he is soon to be a Chelsea player once more, as Thomas Tuchel’s men look to bring him back to the Premier League for a second spell at the club. A big reputation at an early age didn’t make life for him in the Premier League easy in the beginning, however. After signing his first professional contract on his 16th birthday, the striker went on to score 33 goals in 73 league appearances for Anderlecht in his homeland. These scoring conquests peaked the interest of most of the big clubs in Europe, but it was Chelsea who secured his signature as an 18-year old.
At Chelsea, Lukaku was learning his trade from a certain Didier Drogba who, like Lukaku, was a player that possessed devastating power in his game. Despite being a Chelsea player from 2011 to 2014, Lukaku was only handed 15 appearances in all competitions and failed to find the back of the net, perhaps unsurprisingly given the lack of faith the club showed him. Since the striker moved to Everton permanently in 2014 Chelsea have seemingly constantly kept an eye on their former player with a view to bringing him back to the club. Now, with Lukaku age 28 that looks set to finally happen. It was a season-long loan at West Bromwich Albion for the 2012/13 season which should have been enough for Chelsea to realise just how good a player they had on their hands, but for whatever reason Lukaku never got a fair crack of the whip at Stamford Bridge.
The West Brom Loan
Eight days after Lukaku joined West Brom on loan for the season, the Baggies won their opening league fixture 3-0 against Liverpool. It was an emphatic victory which saw Lukaku come off the bench and complete the goals with his 77th minute strike. This result was a sign of things to come in what was a very successful season for the club, as well as Lukaku, finishing 8th; a place they haven’t matched in the Premier League since.
Despite his debut goal, Lukaku would have to be patient and found himself regularly coming off the bench in the first part of the season. He would come off the bench in the next three fixtures without scoring, but would mark his full debut with the only goal of the game at home to Reading on September 22nd. The brute of a striker was clearly very powerful and knew where the goal was, but at such a young age his game was unrefined and raw. The experience of this loan at the Hawthorns would be the start of the process of polishing his game. Substitute appearances would continue to be a regular feature, as Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie were having fine seasons and were proving difficult to dislodge. In the first half of the season, Lukaku managed six league goals. It wasn’t until after Christmas that Lukaku really came alive in his first season of playing regularly in the Premier League.
From January until the end of the season Lukaku was like a man possessed. A battering ram with pace to burn, he was, and still is, a nightmare for defenders. The Belgian would bounce off of defenders as though they weren’t there at times. The loanee started the new year as he intended to go on, scoring in a 2-1 defeat to Fulham on New Years Day. He followed this with a brace in another defeat, this time 3-2 to Reading, in the next league game. He became impossible for West Brom manager, Steve Clarke, to ignore at this point and became a regular starter in a strong West Brom side that supplied plenty of chances for the 6 foot 3 striker, especially from crosses. Lukaku would score his tenth goal of the season on February 11th, helping his team complete a league double over Liverpool, with his 90th minute goal sealing the 2-0 win.
Four more goals would follow before the final game of the season: a brace against Sunderland, one against Swansea City, and one in a 3-0 victory over Southampton. Lukaku would save his best until the last game of the season, though. West Brom were the opposition for Manchester United in Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1,500th, and final, game in charge of the Red Devils. This would prove to be the highest scoring draw in Premier League history, finishing 5-5. A fitting end for a manager who always demanded entertainment from his side. Lukaku would start the day on the bench, but this would not stop his goalscoring exploits. Lukaku ran riot following his introduction, making the great Rio Ferdinand appear a youth team player, such was the way the striker bullied the centre-back. A perfect hat-trick followed. The perfect end to the season for Lukaku.
Despite being loaned out by Chelsea, Lukaku outscored every Chelsea player in the 2012/13 season. This should have been more than a clear enough message to the Chelsea hierarchy that Lukaku was a player that should be given a chance. Instead, they are reportedly about to spend in the region of £100 million to bring back a striker to the club whose potential was so clear to see when they sold him to Everton seven years ago. When asked about a permanent move to West Brom towards the end of the 2021/13 season Lukaku said that he wanted to “return to Stamford Bridge and become a legend there”. Perhaps he still could.