Despite being just 16 years old, Romelu Lukaku is already considered as arguably the most talented player in all of Anderlecht’s history. The Belgian-Congolese forward recently bagged his 15th Jupiler League goal and in doing so became the youngest top scorer ever in Belgium’s top flight. At 16 years, 10 months and eight days, Lukaku beat the record set by Maurice Bunyan, who netted 25 goals when he was just 17 years and seven months old with RC Brussel in the 1911/12 season.
The country’s top flight has, under the rules of a new format, seen its regular season end. Now, teams placed one to six (Anderlecht, Club Brugge, Gent, Kortrijk, Sint-Truidense and Zulte Waregem) will play off for the title, starting with half the points gained during the normal campaign. After a fantastic regular season, Lukaku’s Anderlecht surely can’t fail to win the Jupiler League.
Romelu Lukaku is the son of former player Roger Lukaku, who spent the majority of his career in Belgium, with a brief stint in Turkey with Genclerbirligi. When his son was 15, Roger Lukaku advised him to reject a €1M offer from English side Chelsea, not wanting him to leave Brussels too soon. “Romelu must first complete his studies and development”, warned his father. Lukaku senior surely knew the case of Nii Lamptey, one of the most gifted players seen in Belgium, who did not though live up to his billing. Lamptey too broke into the professional game with Anderlecht.
When Lamptey was a teenager he was considered Africa’s answer to Pele, awarded with the Golden Ball at the 1991 FIFA Under-17 World Championship. The youngster made his debut at 16 for Anderlecht, becoming the youngest ever scorer in European competition. Lamptey went on to lead Ghana’s Under-20 team to the final of the 1993 FIFA Under-20 World Championship (the Black Stars losing out to Brazil 2-1), also winning a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. It then came as little surprise when Lamptey swapped Belgium for Holland and Anderlecht for PSV Eindhoven, arriving at the Phillips Stadion as a superstar. For the Ghana man though, the career at the top of the game never quite happened as he suffered a string of failures which soon burnt him out far ahead of time. Lamptey became very well travelled, playing in China, Turkey, Germany, the Middle East and even South America, but wherever he went he was never able to arrest his decline, or rediscover the promise of his youth.
Lamptey serves as a warning for Lukaku. Instead the youngster has another role model, Didier Drogba, to whom he has often been compared by the Belgian press. Physically strong, the young Anderlecht striker has pace, power, a good head and shot (with his left foot) and is able to hold the ball up with ease, bringing those around him into the game. In this season’s Europa League, Lukaku showed he could score outside Belgium too, managing two against Ajax and in the process becoming the third youngest goalscorer ever in European competition, behind of course Lamptey and IFK Gothenburg’s Niklas Barkroth. He followed those goals up with strikes against Athletic Bilbao and Hamburg.
The Antwerp born striker was irresistable at youth level: 68 goals scored with FC Brussels, 59 with Anderlecht’s Under-15s, 34 with their Under-17s and 26 with the club’s Under-19s. On 13th May, 2009, Lukaku signed his first professional contract with the Belgian giants, making his debut just 11 days later in the championship playoff return match with Standard Liege. In the process he became the youngest player to wear the Anderlecht shirt, just as it was for stars like Paul van Himst, Nii Lamptey, Celestine Babayaro and Anthony Vanden Borre.
This season has seen Paars-wit coach Ariel Jacobs ease the 16-year-old steadily into the starting eleven. On 3rd March, 2010, Lukaku made his senior debut for Belgium in a freindly against Croatia in yet a further sign as to the esteem in which he is held. Off the pitch Lukaku also saw his Anderlecht shirt become the most expensive item sold in a bring and buy sale organised by SOS Kinderdorf, the world’s largest charity dedicated to orphaned and abandoned children. It fetched €4,511.
Indeed, the future looks very bright for Romelu Lukaku, but it remains essential that he heeds the words of his father and does not move too soon. It is a view others share. “There’s no doubt about his qualities.” said Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s personal advisor and former PSV chief scout Piet de Visser. “Is Lukaku ready for a top club? Not yet in my opinion, and of course he needs to improve and gain experience. Actually Anderlecht is the best club for his development. It would be sad to see him at Chelsea sitting on the bench. What will he learn then?”
In the summer of 2008 Everton bought Marouane Fellaini for €20M from Standard Liege and in so doing made the midfielder the most expensive Belgian player ever. Few would bet against that record not being broken by Lukaku, Belgian football’s next big thing. And if he achieves what many believe he can, then that €4,511 paid for his shirt might seem like very good business indeed.
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