Lukaku, Eto'o motivated to prove Mourinho and Chelsea wrong
It might not have been too much of a stretch to mark Romelu Lukaku out as the next Samuel Eto'o while he developed at Anderlecht, making his senior debut in 2009 at the end of a season that saw the Cameroonian score 36 goals for Barcelona. We can quibble about stylistic differences or physical traits, but their eyes for the goal are similar and their present motivations might well be in line, too.
Perhaps Lukaku expected that Eto'o and his ilk would always be the ideal to reach, the mission fulfilled, the point to be made across a career whose peak would come long after Eto'o had wound down. Yet the two converge at Everton now, and not simply in geographical terms. Both have issues to force home; both carry degrees of baggage to shake off. This weekend, both men would give that little bit of extra significance to a goal against Chelsea and Jose Mourinho: the club and manager that were happy to let them go.
"The received wisdom is that your numbers change when you get older." Samuel Eto'o was talking about his slightly eccentric selection of the No. 5 shirt upon joining Everton, but it wasn't hard to see how the statement could be worked into multiple contexts. Eto'o, now 33, has been dismissed in some quarters as a fading force ever since leaving Inter Milan for Anzhi Makhachkala in 2011 -- a perception not exactly aided by Mourinho's aside about his age last season. That barb was shrugged off this week, even if Eto'o's remark -- "the only thing I have to say about Jose Mourinho is to thank him" -- didn't exactly ring of a friendly bond.
Eto'o probably felt he had another year of Champions League football left in him, while those numbers at Stamford Bridge were not really all that bad. Twelve goals in 34 games -- nine in 21 in the Premier League, more tellingly -- was a modest return by his standards, but he delivered on the big occasions: two against Schalke in the Champions League, a winner against Liverpool, that very-close-range hat trick against Manchester United, goals against Arsenal and -- importantly at the time -- Galatasaray. Slighted he may have been, and cut out for a 60-game season he probably was not, but his ability to intervene when it mattered was still in evidence and was, in truth, perhaps shrouded by the jests about his age.
If Eto'o finds to stomach Mourinho's lack of faith -- whatever it was really down to -- Lukaku has moved on quite publicly. He made few bones about feeling unloved at Chelsea, a situation that pre-dated their current manager's second coming, and his 28-million-pound price tag confirmed that Everton, at least, held unconditional faith. (They actually held more than that: "I would have paid 100 million pounds for Lukaku if I had the money," Everton manager Roberto Martinez said.)
But you wonder whether that "Played 15, Goals 0" record in west London -- albeit from sporadic, mainly staccato appearances -- nags at him. Mourinho did not rate Lukaku's stomach for the fight to assume a centre-forward spot that had been up for grabs since the end of Didier Drogba's first spell at Chelsea; consequently, he was happy to let Lukaku go with that big zero, the figure strikers hate the most, against his name. Martinez has gone the other way, emphasising that Lukaku's personality fits his squad perfectly.
That Martinez, who is no fool and has assembled Everton's squad with great care, has so willingly embraced both into his unit suggests that he and Mourinho have, at the very least, differing approaches to man-management. Again, he focused on Eto'o's character: "In every aspect he is the perfect fit for the team and squad. His mental focus was so impressive last season I knew for a fact that he was exactly what we needed for the squad."
With the mention of "last season," there was perhaps a nod to extraneous matters. Eto'o has never really been concerned with popularity contests, but both he and Lukaku might feel that Mourinho got the person wrong as well as the player. And perhaps he could have done with having one of them around: Fernando Torres' race is very much run, regardless of whether he leaves for Milan, and time is ticking on efforts to bring in Mattia Destro as a younger, vibrant replacement. With Diego Costa doubtful for Saturday, one of them could even have started for Chelsea at Goodison Park had things panned out differently.
Yet now, Eto'o and Lukaku are competing for a place in the Everton side. It is hard to see Eto'o supplanting Lukaku; it is more straightforward to envisage him playing more of a squad role once fit and perhaps appearing in one of the wider attacking roles that were not especially to his taste when working under Mourinho. Martinez's confidence in the pair's personalities may well be justified, but you feel there is a balance that will need striking -- both are sensitive souls, and neither will flinch from confrontation if hard times arrive. As important as creating the right blend on the pitch will be the need to ensure they feel secure off it; the protégé drawing inspiration from the veteran but spurring him on, too.
Lukaku's other burden is, of course, his fee. In this age of instant gratification, there will be questions posed if his seasonal duck remains intact considerably beyond August. The stakes never seem quite as high when your exciting young attacker is a loanee; when the seemingly impossible happens and he joins the fold for good, expectations hit another level. It seems slightly absurd that he should have to keep on justifying himself; Lukaku's previous two years in the Premier League, during which he scored goals for West Brom and Everton at a rate few of his age have managed. That said, a riposte this weekend would be a timely, double-pronged way of blowing all that out of the water.
In the end, comfort is as important as anything else in football. Players turn it on at one club rather than another because the feng shui feels right or the wind blows in a particular direction. The fit may not be obvious, but Lukaku, Eto'o and Everton appear at ease with one another in Martinez's harmonious camp; hammering the point home to Mourinho on Saturday leave them sitting even more snugly.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC, the Guardian, FourFourTwo and the Blizzard, among others. Twitter: @NickAmes82.