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As Lukaku Continues to Realise His Potential: How Long Until the Big Boys Come Calling?

25/11/2015 17:44 GMT | Updated 25/11/2016 10:12 GMT

It's more than five years since Romelu Lukaku, then only 16, scored 15 goals to deliver Anderlecht to the Belgian Pro League title. Those sorts of exploits rarely go unnoticed, not least if you're a "teenager with the physique of a heavyweight boxer", as the Belgian television presenter Niko Laine so succinctly described. There can't have been many European football clubs whose name wasn't attached to the striker before he joined Chelsea for a potential £17million the following summer, 2011.

On Saturday, Lukaku, now an Everton player, became only the fifth person to score 50 Premier League goals before the age of 23, joining the illustrious names of Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. He is still very much a heavyweight, although these four years in England have made him leaner; more dynamic. The big guns, though, do not appear to be re-circling just yet.

It didn't quite work for Lukaku at Chelsea, but there's no shame in that. Another Belgian, Kevin de Bruyne, left Stamford Bridge for Wofsburg in 2014, only to return to the Premier League with Manchester City 18 months later for £55million. Even Nemanja Matic, who was re-signed at four times the price three years after joining Benfica, was overlooked by the Blues first time around. Lukaku is surely on the cusp of being considered in that bracket.

He's always had confidence in his own ability. During a school trip to Stamford Bridge, he accurately predicted he would one day play for the club he'd admired from afar. "You can dream on later," his teacher said, only for the awestruck 14-year-old to reply: "This is not dreaming. I will do it. One day I will play here."

But after three years, two loan spells and only 15 appearances Lukaku was forced to abandon his 'dream' and seek an alternative route to the top, after Chelsea had paid £32m for Diego Costa and re-signed Didier Drogba, the man the Belgian was bought to replace. "It is a great football club," Lukaku said at the time. "I wouldn't say anything bad about that club but I didn't want to on the bench for 10 years."

At Everton this season, the 22-year-old is finally blossoming into the player we all thought he'd become. Nine goals in 13 appearances put him behind only Jamie Vardy on the list of Premier League top scorers, while his four assists highlight the overall impact he's had on his team.

Lukaku needs just one more of each to match last season's league goals and assists tallies, which are respectable given Everton's struggle to balance their domestic and European schedules. Even so, a further eight strikes in the Europa League and two more in the cups saw him surpass the 15-goal mark for the third campaign in a row. In fact, he's failed to hit that particular milestone just once in his entire professional career - that first season at Stamford Bridge.

It's therefore difficult to grasp why Lukaku's name is barely mentioned when the top clubs are looking to add to their forward lines. Arsenal, Manchester United and, ironically, Chelsea could all do with another body in that department. Few are stronger, few are faster and few are as clinical as he is, while his blend of youth and experience is extremely well married.

Last summer, Arsenal's manager blamed "nice pitches" for Europe's shortage of world-class strikers; United gambled on a 19-year-old with no track record of ever being prolific (although the early evidence suggests Anthony Martial will prove a worthwhile addition), while Chelsea opted for a washed up Radamel Falcao instead.

Perhaps it's the fact that Lukaku cost Everton £28million that's putting them all off? His valuation is sure to have skyrocketed over the past 15 months, but even if it's forty-five or even fifty million pounds, few can be considered as worthy of that outlay as he can. No disrespect to Everton, a fine club of proud traditions, but it surely can't be long until Lukaku's exploits are again picked up on slightly further afield.

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