As he raced away having bagged his fourth goal of the game against Bournemouth on Saturday, I sat in Lower Gwladys and tried to remember the last time a player scored 4 in one game for Everton. It was Louis Saha in 2011 against Blackpool. The main difference between these two players is that on that day in February 2011 at Goodison, the vast majority of the crowd would’ve been surprised if not shocked to witness Louis Saha put four past Blackpool (it was the only Premier League hat-trick of his career). Against Bournemouth 6 years later, you would struggle to find a single spectator in the crowd or dugout that was really that surprised that Everton’s centre-forward had scored for the fourth time in the same game.
Lukaku stated that he ‘had a good feeling about today’ when he was on his way to the match on the morning of the fixture. The confidence of a striker who is at the top of his game shone through in that comment – he knew he could terrorise Bournemouth, he knew he was the best footballer on the pitch that day, and he knew that if he played his best, he would run riot no matter how formidable the opposition.
He put in an utterly ruthless display. Lukaku scored from each of his 4 shots on target, and although one was a gift from Simon Francis, the other 3 were chances that other strikers in the league would do well to covert 1 of, let alone all three. The cultured technique to curl the ball past Boruc for his first, the side footed volley cushioned into the back of the net for the hat-trick, and the calmly slotted fourth that went beyond the onrushing keeper were a joy to watch. As well as his clinical finishing, Lukaku’s link up play was fantastic – his exchange of passes with James McCarthy for his first goal, and his disguised pass for Seamus Coleman leading up to his third stand out in particular. Lukaku also showed signs that he is beginning to understand his role in the high press, having been more eager than in previous games to cover potential passes for a defender. This of course lead to his second goal of the game when he intercepted Simon Francis’ pass that, had Lukaku not jogged up to cut off the route to Steve Cook, would have easily reached a red and black shirt.
It is not just of course the Bournemouth game where Lukaku has excelled this season. He scored a hattrick at Sunderland, a brace at Watford, fine individual strikes at City and Leicester and most recently was instrumental in the thumping of Manchester City at Goodison. He is now the Premier League’s top goal scorer with 16, he has provided four assists, and has converted a whopping 64% of all shots on target he has taken. This is starting to look like the season where the Belgian places himself among the league’s elite strikers.
Romelu Lukaku is extremely undervalued by the Everton fanbase. There is a rather vocal minority who believe Lukaku is lazy, has a poor first touch and offers little if he does not score. He is beginning to silence even the most passionate of doubters with his record – he has scored 59 league goals for Everton, one off Duncan Ferguson’s record of 60, and is on course to be the first Everton player to score 16+ goals in 3 consecutive seasons since Joe Royle. That’s a feat that the likes of Latchford, Sharpe, Lawton, Cottee et al could not achieve. Lukaku has had an up and down relationship with the fans – from the high of him signing permanently in 2014 and saying ‘I feel like I am home’ to his non-stop angling for a move in the latter part of the 2015-16 season, much has happened to strain the relationship between fan and forward. Lukaku has consistently delivered on the pitch but has sometimes offended the fanbase with his comments about wanting to move on. I feel he should be absolved of his sins committed towards the end of last season. Lukaku was consistently scoring goals in a team that would consistently cancel them out through laughable defending and tactical errors; little can annoy a striker more than seeing his efforts come to nothing after mistakes by his teammates. Furthermore, upon signing Lukaku was promised a side with the potential to reach the top four – he instead saw the team grow weaker each season, spending little money to fulfil the promises he had been made when he put pen to paper on his permanent deal. Can you really blame him for wanting to move faced with the prospect of yet another Martinez season?
He seems to have changed his mind since Koeman has come in. The increased solidity, vibrant young talents and big money signings such as Schneiderlin and Bolasie have seen Everton make strides this season and challenge for a top 6 spot, if ultimately falling short at this point. There are big noises being made about a new long term contract for Lukaku, and with many suitors such as Chelsea, Manchester United and Juventus now seeming out of the picture, it would not surprise many to see Rom at Goodison beyond the summer.
In Romelu Lukaku, Everton have one of the top strikers in football. He possesses a rare combination of pace, strength and aerial ability that Everton would not be able to replace. We must keep our star man, build our team around him, and watch him keep scoring goals and breaking records in a blue shirt. If you’re reading this, Rom – we love you big man.