Romelu Lukaku: Making case for non-fiction

Date published: Saturday 12th December 2015 3:55 - Sarah Winterburn

Last season there was a running theme in the Football365 Mailbox and comments sections that Harry Kane was a fictional character – an old-fashioned local boy with old-fashioned hair and an old-fashioned jaw, scoring ridiculous numbers of goals to stave off the cynicism of Tottenham fans and some neutrals desperate to see “one of our own” doing well. Globalisation of the game? An English sport invaded and ruled by expensive (and inexpensive) foreign imports? Sod off. We have Harry Edward Kane. Knight, warrior, Englishman.

Bored of that particular narrative? Then let us introduce you to Jamie Vardy, dragging his bones up from non-league football to break a scoring record we didn’t previously know existed. What could possibly be better than a local boy done good? A fairytale rise up the divisions for an English everyman, of course. How much did he earn? Whose boots did he clean? Who did he racially abuse? Actually, forget that last one because princes in fairytales do not make “regrettable errors of judgement”. Leicester City: Top of both the Premier League and the Sunday Times fiction chart.

These stories are such compelling page-turners that they cause everybody to lose their heads. You get national newspaper journalists suggesting that Vardy could earn £300,000 a week at Leicester, join Barcelona, or both. You get ex-players claiming Kane could be worth £50m, Vardy £30m and that clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea should pay those prices. You get speculative stories of Hollywood being interested in a dramatisation. And you get Chris Sutton talking to BT Sport before Everton face Norwich and being asked whether he would prefer Vardy or Romelu Lukaku in his side.

The answer? Vardy, of course. “Lukaku is just a physical presence.”

That statistic was tweeted just before Sutton uttered those bizarre and yet utterly predictable words so before Lukaku made it 37 Premier League goals in just over two years, before he scored in his seventh consecutive Everton game, before he made it 51 in 101 in all competitions for the Toffees and a full five months before the Belgian turns 23.

Sutton is not alone. You will find Vardy’s name in ‘team of the season so far’ features far more often than you will find that of Lukaku. The English media has been so busy revelling in an unlikely fairytale story that it has wilfully ignored the real-life tale of a modern football hero. Being big, black and Belgian makes him an unlikely poster boy for English football but Lukaku’s story – left home at 18, joined his boyhood heroes, faltered, recovered and then soared – is a story that does not need melodramatic twists. If you insist, we can throw in Lukaku refusing to accept a Champions League winner’s medal he did not deserve. Though we do accept that a Rocky-style montage of him watching every single minute of every Premier League game on television may not make compelling viewing.

Lukaku’s performance against Norwich was flawed – he missed one chance that was easier than the one he took – but once again he delivered. His assist-scorer partnership with Gerard Deulofeu has now reaped six goals, the most deadly combination in the Premier League. He targeted a one-in-two record and he has hit that target with what we are contractually obliged to call aplomb. But consistency is not sexy. Especially when it comes in the guise of a “physical presence” with a foreign accent.

“He is as good as it gets in the league. Only Sergio Aguero has had a similar impact in the last three years,” said Roberto Martinez this week. Now that – ladies and gentlemen – is a striker who is worth £50m. And he’s real.


Sarah Winterburn

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