Having enjoyed a fruitful season-long loan at the Hawthorns, is it too soon for the Antwerp-born teenager to return to West London?
"What a stadium. If one day in my life I will cry, it will be the day I play here. I love Chelsea."
~Romelu Lukaku, on a school trip to Stamford Bridge in 2009.
While we contemplate the demise of a great one-sided love affair, the first thing to say about Romelu Lukaku is that he's definitely not the next incarnation of Didier Drogba. No, sir. Though it's true they're both descendants of the same continent (Romelu's father, Roger, played for Zaire) and each blessed with an imposing physique that brings to mind a particularly bulked Rhinoceros or an off-shore drilling rig, it's here the likeness ends.
Actually, you know what, that's not where it ends at all. Try as you might to avoid comparisons between this mighty cleaving of Belgian oak and the man whom festooned the walls of his bedroom as a youngster growing up in Antwerp, you can't help but see similarities.
Speed, strength and a hair-do that Milli Vanilli might call flamboyant; perhaps the only difference between the two at present is that at nineteen- the age Lukaku is now- the late-blooming Drogba had yet to sign his first professional contract and wouldn't do so for another two years. And, while a teenage prodigy does not a career forge, the young Chelsea buck's developed faster than his boyhood hero and has the promise to be a more devastating centre-forward. Just as long as the next few years aren't spent flanked by Paulo Ferreira and Fernando Torres on the Chelsea bench.
In many ways, Lukaku is just the player Rafa Benitez has been missing this season and it's maybe unfortunate (or just a yawning oversight) that of the three strikers the European Champions have on their books, the most in-form/not terrible is 146.4 miles away in the Midlands.
After a difficult first season at Stamford Bridge in which Chelsea fans with YouTube accounts might've wondered where the heckingtons their 6ft2 freight train of a player- whom defenders would simply bounce off like infants on a trampoline- had got to. Twelve league appearances and zero goals wasn't quite the Next Big Thing they'd had in mind. Indeed, Lukaku himself was less than pleased with his contributions, recalling after the Champions League triumph:
"When [Salomon] Kalou put the cup on my lap in the bus I asked him to take it away immediately. I didn't want to touch it because just as with the Champions League I had no part in it at all"
If the 2011/12 season was an appalling waste of time for Lukaku (FA Cup win aside) then this campaign on loan at West Brom has been something of a revelation. Although used cautiously early on- Steve Clarke favouring the partnership of Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie in the season's opening months- the Belgian's unsuitability to play second-fiddle was so obvious as to be ludicrous. Along with the goals- two more in the League than Rooney with thirteen- he's also impressed with his tireless labouring for the cause. His second against Sunderland at the end of February, a fine example.
The dilemma facing Lukaku now is whether to return to Chelsea in the summer and risk being marginalised again should Abramovich decide to funnel an absurd amount of Euros through Aurelio De Larentiis' letterbox for Edinson Cavani. Or, to maintain his steady progress, does he spend another season on-loan elsewhere. From the West Londoners' point of view, they might see him as an effective impact-sub, one whom could be bought on in a game's final lights to bully tired opponents into surrender. For the teenager, however, and the sake of his career, you'd imagine he'd need something more substantial.