Romelu Lukaku, a centre-forward for any age, has had another fine season for Everton and has used his pace and majority to make no end of difficulties for defenders
There is much about modern football that would bewilder a guest from 100 years ago. Even after they had got used to the lightweight kit, the ball that bent and veered and did not absorb sea as the game went on, the firm and grassy tars, the goalkeepers in latex gloves and the extraordinary costs of everything, they would still be puzzled by how the game was played.
Why all the defenders? And why did they all play so far from their purpose? And what was the goalkeeper doing reaching that far out?( Get back! Youre not Leigh Roose !). And why did so many strikers play like GO Smith of the Corinthians, falling deep all the time? But Everton would provide him with some solace.
All the seats and the blue plastic might embarrass him but the Archibald Leitch latticework along the front of two stands would be familiar. And then they would meet Romelu Lukaku and recognise a musician they understood absolutely.
Lukaku is a striker as old-time as football itself. This is what centre-forwards have always done. They are big-hearted and rapid and powerful. They stand around the box. They win headers. They score goals. From Dixie Dean to Didier Drogba, this is the image of the No9. Football is a sport that has undergone countless changes in its century and a half of codified universe. Other outlooks have been evolved beyond all recognition. It is one of the largest strengths of football that it can be played in so many modes. But however many variants of the centre-forward there now are, from poachers to false-hearted nines, there will always be a region in the game for strikers who can outpace and outmuscle the opponent and rating goals. Lukaku stands in the oldest of traditions.
The Belgium strikers 21 league goals this season “re all the” most impressive when it is borne in mind that he does not take Evertons penalties. He has scored a free-kick but his other 20 goals have all come from inside the box, nine with his left foot, six with his right and five with his head. It is that aerial ability that sets him in the lineage of the traditional centre-forward: he wins 3.6 duels per play, the ninth highest figure in the league for a forward.
There are doubts about him. He can fade out of plays. He remains something of a mood musician, although it should be remembered that he is still merely 23: merely Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney have reached 50 Premier League goals at a younger age. Age may deliver its consistency, although his three younger predecessors suggest it may merely bringing heavier limbs.
His first touch can be heavy. Merely nine musicians have been dispossessed more than him this season, although considering the fact that listing includes Diego Costa, Alexis Snchez, Raheem Sterling and Sadio Man, that stat perhaps says little more than that he plays as a forward. Fewer than two in three of his pass find their target. If touch can be measured by how often poor command has expenditure him possession, Lukaku actually grades relatively well: he is only the 21 st worst offender, behind Man, Sanchez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sergio Agero, Paul Pogba, Harry Kane and Diego Costa.
His zone of operation is bracingly old-fashioned: no outfield musician extended less than him last-place season. Although Ronald Koeman has tried to encourage him to lead the press, the compared to his opposite number on Saturday is telling: Lukaku leads an average 2.8 km per play less than Roberto Firmino. The advantage of that is perhaps seen in the fact that 10 of his goals have come in the final quarter-hour of plays. If he extended more earlier in the game, would lessen freshness attain him least effective in those closing minutes?
And that, perhaps, is more intriguing of the doubts about him. Ibrahimovic expresses fondly in his autobiography of getting to Juventus where Fabio Capello promised to knock Ajax out of your form and encouraged him to haunt the box, places great importance on goalscoring.
Koeman now, without the pressure of Ajaxs expected mode of play as represented by his technical director Louis van Gaal is a more relaxed figure, more prepared to let Lukaku be the musician he is rather than the musician the system challenges he is expected to be, but that post-Cruyff logic remains reigning at many of Europes top clubs.
Lukaku, for example, could not successfully change regions with Firmino, who builds eight times bigger tackles per play. Nor would he fit in at Tottenham, Manchester City or Barcelona. A club of Evertons stature will bend to accommodate a flair like Lukaku; the absolute elite will not. That is why, with his new contract unsigned, the two associations contributing the queue are Chelsea and Manchester United, both of which, under their current managers, would prioritise goals over assimilation.
But he is far from unique in that. Just because Lukaku is not a modish type of forward does not mean that he is not an extremely effective one. And if the visitor from 100 years ago wanted to take him back, he would be effective then as well.