Romelu Lukaku ate cornflakes with water when he was little, but his physique hasn’t suffered. With his 1.91 meters and 94 kilograms, the new Chelsea acquisition is one of the biggest and strongest professional players of the moment. He is slightly smaller than big forwards like Ibrahimovic, Erling Haalans and Olivier Giroud, but one of the heaviest among them.
When he arrived at Inter in 2019, he received a request from the club to reduce his strength training sessions. He weighed more than a hundred kilograms and it seemed that his muscle mass was getting in the way of his agility. Only colleague striker Ibrahimovic with his length of 1.95 metres weighs a little more than the Belgium. Lukaku also has huge feet, with his size 48.5 he leaves behind a giant like Ibrahimovic (size 47).
Despite all that weight, Lukaku is lightning fast and agile. Quite a few defenders in Serie A have been unable to keep up with him sprinting in recent seasons, even when the Belgian had the ball at his feet. And if even they came close to the attacker, the ball was often still not within reach because of Lukaku’s broad shoulders.
With 24 goals, Romelu Lukaku finished second behind Cristiano Ronaldo om the Serie A top scorer list last season. The Portuguese scored 29 times, but the Belgian got the Italian Championship. That’s partly because Lukaku is less selfish than Ronaldo. With 35 goals and assists combined last season, Lukaku’s contribution to the attack of his team was higher than that of Cristiano.
With his excellent play, Lukaku has forced a transfer to Chelsea. The English club bought Lukaku before, from Anderlecht in 2011 for 12 million. Than as an eighteen-year-old in the Premier Legaue, he rarely gets a chance to play. Supporters start to whistle when the ball bounces off his foot again due to his presumed lack of control. When Chelsea win the Champions League final on May 19, Lukaku refuses to hold up the cup: ‘It’s not me but my team that won this cup’, he told the BBC.
In the end Chelsea decides to loan out Lukaku to West Bromwich Albion and later to Everton. In the end the second club from Liverpool decided to buy the player for 35 million euros. At Everton Lukaku develops into a key player. He scores 68 goals in 161 games and deserves a transfer to Manchester United.
And than again his luck changes. Lukaku fails to become champion with Manchester United and is easlily knocked out by Barcelona in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Lukaku complains that he is always seen as a scapegoat along with Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez for the lack of success. In 2019 he leaves for Inter Milan for 80 million euros.
Now Premier Club Chelsea pays 115 million euros for the return of Lukaku from Italy. The supporters of Inter Milan did not understand the move. A mural on the club’s stadium, made in honor of the championship, has been defaced with paint by supporters of the hard core of Inter Milan. ‘Dear Lukaku, we expected honest and more transparent behavior from you’, Curva Nord supporters explain their deed on Facebook. ‘We have welcomed and protected you like a son, as one of us. But you, like everyone else, have succumbed to the big bucks. We wish you the best, but greed doesn’t always pay off.’
Romelu Lukaku’s championship with Inter Milan last season was only the second in his career. The first time was with Anderlecht. After he became champion with the Belgium club, in the 2009-2010 season, he did not go to the disco with his team, but celebrates in a small circle, with his brother Jordan. ‘Romelu is not a party animal’, explained Tom de Sutter, his teammate at the time in the Belgium newspaper Het Nieuwsblad.
At the age of sixteen, Romelu Lukaku made his debut for Anderlecht, as one of the youngest players ever, on 24 May 2009 in a lost championship match against Standaard Liège. Lukaku celebrates his first goal in Anderlecht’s first, on August 28, 2009 in a friendly match against second division team Tournai, with a somersault. ‘That wasn’t because he wanted to steal the show’, Jacobs writes in his biography on Lukaku. “It was the somersault of a street soccer player who scored the winning goal on the playground. Afterwards I did address him about the physical danger of such a gym exercise, but every time Romelu scores, I still see childlike joy.’ On December 17 of the same season, Romelu Lukaku scored twice against Ajax, in a 3-1 win for the Europa League.
On February 24, 2010 the Belgium national coach Dick Advocaat selects Lukaku for his first international match with Belgium against Croatia. The newcomer has to sing a song and chooses a song by the French rapper Seyfu.
Lukaku has also whistled in the Belgian national team, for instance in the first game after the elimination of the Red Devils at the European Championship in 2016. The reason is a big opportunity that he misses against Bosnia-Herzegovina shortly after the elimination. Later in that game, when he scores the 4-0 goal, he puts his hand to his ear: ‘Do you have something to shout about now?’ In another match, later against Estonia there is another flute concert. Lukaku tells the American news site Business Insider that he is considering quitting his career as an international. Today however, Lukaku is the most important player of the Red Devils, together with Kevin de Bruyne.
MILK WITH WATER
The story of his childhood, which Lukaku tells in his biography, written by Yannick Dekeukelaere, is harrowing, but also a classic example of how a tough childhood can sow the seeds for ambition. ‘We ate bread every day and milk was the only food we could afford’, Lukaku tells in it. ‘I can still remember my mother walking into the kitchen and getting a carton of milk from the refrigerator. This time she added something, and she started shaking. At first I didn’t understand what was going on. Then she brought my lunch to me and I realized she was diluting the milk with water. We were not poor, we were bankrupt.’
Lukaku didn’t say anything, he obediently ate his lunch. ‘But I swear to God that I promised myself that day that I was going to do something about it. It was like someone snapped their fingers and I woke up. I couldn’t bear to see my mother live like this.’
Lukaku’s father left Kinshasa for Belgium, to build a career as a professional football player, but the money he had earned during that time had ran out when Lukaku was growing up. Watching TV was no option in the Lukaku house, because there was no money to pay for the cable subscription. Sometimes, when Lukaku came home, the lights were out: there was no money to pay the electricity bill either. Taking a warm bath was often not an option for Lukaku. His mother put a kettle of water on the fire and threw cups of warm water over his head as a shower.
‘People like to talk about mental strength in football, well I’m the strongest guy they’ll come across’, Lukaku says. ‘I have seen my mother crying when I got home.’
‘At what age can you start playing football’, Lukaku asked his father. At sixteen, he replied. Ok, said Romelu, then that will happen. And to his mother: ‘Mommy everything is going to change. I’m going to play for Anderlecht and you don’t have to worry anymore.”
The 50 cent rap song Ryder Music is a favorite song of Romelu Lukaku. The American rapper expresses what the Belgian feels: ‘My mama gave birth to a winner, I gotta win’. After his goals, Lukaku often forms the letter A with his fingers: a reference to his mother’s first name: Adolphine.
Even as a kid, Lukaku was huge. A watching parent of a youth team he played against with Lierse stopped him when he wanted to walk onto the field. How old is this kid? Where is his passport? Where does he come from? I thought: ‘I was born in Antwerp. I’m from Belgium. I had to take my passport out of my bag and show it to all the parents. They passed it around and looked at it. ‘I remember feeling the blood of anger coursing through my veins’, he says in his biography. ‘And I thought, ‘Now I’m really going to destroy your son. You will drive him home crying tonight.’
Lukaku has been fighting racism all his career. He also had to deal with it in Italy. For example, in 2019 Cagliari supporters made jungle noises when he touched the ball.
Of course, Romelu Lukaku has persisted in a fight against racism all his life. In the opening game of the European Championship, against Russia, the Belgian players kneel. Romelu Lukaku raises his fist, while the Russian fans shout disapprovingly. The Russian players remain standing. Belgium wins the match 3-0.
It is not known who in the Belgian national team has taken the initiative to kneel from September 2020, but it is certain that Lukaku has committed himself to this. I’m just fighting for equality’, Lukaku said to the Belgian television channel VTM. ‘I’m not just fighting for the black people. I also fight for the women and for LGBs.’