Where Does Lukaku Rank Amongst This Generation's Best?

James Budgen

Nobody can dispute his goals, but he should probably score more

Romelu Lukaku has always been a player that has split opinions amongst football fans since the start of his move to the Premier League, but he also has always been a reliable source of goals during his career, and there can be no doubt about that.

Lukaku has scored 15+ goals in seven of the last nine league seasons, scoring 20+ goals three times, including his previous two seasons at Inter Milan, which also brought in the club’s first Serie A title in over a decade.

Despite the goals, the recent league titles, his unrivalled physical stature up top, he doesn't quite get into the talks amongst the greats. We look at where this topsy-turvy striker fits into that discussion.

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Not many better have done it in the Premier League

Lukaku is the 20th in all-time scoring charts in the Premier League, scoring 118 goals in 265 appearances. Not bad for a man not many can seem to figure out within their squad.

This is more goals than Premier League winners like Ian Wright and ironically, Chelsea legend, Didier Drogba, and he even has a better goals-to-game record than the Ivory Coast man. Furthermore, should Lukaku net a further 10 goals in this season, which is still extremely possible and likely if he gets back into the side, he will move into the 14th all-time top scorer and ahead of the likes of Steven Gerrard, Dwight Yorke, Nicolas Anelka, Robbie Keane, and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbnaink, while Jamie Vardy is currently just nine ahead of him too.

Considering he came into the league at a young age, whilst not always being on a great team, spending four years at Everton and a year at West Brom, this record is quite remarkable. Lukaku’s best season in the Premier League was the 2016/17 campaign where he scored 25 goals in 37 appearances for Everton, and he was only beaten to the Golden Boot when Harry Kane incredibly scored six goals in his final three games of the season, which included a hat-trick away to Hull City.

This secured him a £75m move to Manchester United, which is where the questions began to start on just how good or bad he actually is. But, this is exactly our point: that season he outscored Diego Costa in a title-winning team, Alexis Sanchez who had the best season of his career, Sergio Aguero and Zlatlan Ibrahimovic.

The Move to Serie A only justified his greatness

During his time in the Serie A, Lukaku was outscored by only two players: Cristiano Ronaldo and Ciro Immobile. This is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

While at Inter, Lukaku played a different role than what he is asked to play at Chelsea now and previously at Manchester United. Antonio Conte didn’t want Lukaku to play with his back to goal, to negate his wastefulness on the ball, and rather, he played him in the channels, making runs in behind where he can use his movement and physical attributes to run at defences and be a scoring threat rather being a link up player. It worked a treat, but on the other hand, it only bolstered the argument that if he is to succeed, everyone else around him must play to his strengths.

With the Inter team being catered to Lukaku’s strengths, he scored 20+ goals in the league in consecutive seasons for the first time in his career. 47 goals in 72 league appearances for Inter is a very impressive return, especially considering he played in a two striker system alongside Lautaro Martinez and how this also meant he outscored the Brazilian Ronaldo with these stats from his Inter days.

In just his second season in Italy, not only was Lukaku the second top goalscorer in the league, he played a huge part in winning Inter’s first title since 2009/10, and the first team not named Juventus to win the trophy since 2010/11. The two years at Inter secured him another huge move to Chelsea, taking his transfer costs up to £280m, the highest cumulative transfer fees paid for a player, which all but sums up how tough this argument is to work out; is he that good or are we missing something?

One of the bests, but just below the very best

Lukaku is a step below the best strikers of his generation, Robert Lewandowski, Luis Suarez, Sergio Aguero and Karim Benzema for example, and quite a big step at that. But, nevertheless, that bracket below is where he excels and fits in.

His all-around play compared to these players isn't as good. They can score similar amounts of goals compared to Lukaku, but also help with team play more efficiently compared to him and at the end of the day, stick that above names in any side out there and they score goals. Lukaku, however, won't.

But, when a team is clearly built to his strengths like Inter and Everton were able to do, he is able to score 20+ goals a season very easily. It also makes it impressive that when asked to do a job of linking up play with his back to goal, like his job at United and currently at Chelsea, which isn't his best attribute, he is still able to contribute a lot to the team, which is a sign of a great player.

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