Lukaku signing signals Everton intent
In the midst of a transfer window low on excitement, Evertonians are suddenly beside themselves in a state of rapture. Positive news is flying out of the club like hotcakes. The latest eye-catching business, obliterating the club's record transfer fee to secure the services of Romelu Lukaku, is the third major development in as many days.
Of the three, the signing of Lukaku is the best signifier of Everton now. It is hard, almost nigh on impossible, to recall a time when there was such ambition and positivity concerning matters on the pitch. Supporters have Roberto Martinez to thank for that.
Almost doubling the club's record transfer fee, this eye-catching 28 million pound move takes the phrase 'statement of intent' to new-fangled heights. This is as strong a statement as any made in the Premier League this summer, especially given Everton's historically frugal nature in the transfer market. While this transfer is undoubtedly bold and affirmative, it also represents a major leap of faith for a club that, just more than two years ago, went twelve months without buying a single player on a permanent deal.
As a result, there are bound to be reservations about the fee -- at the end of last season, anything upwards of 20 million pounds felt much too risky -- but the influx of television money ensures Everton can (finally) afford such expenditure, thereby lessening the risk involved.
What's more, with the television clearly playing a key role in this current transfer market, inflated prices elsewhere turn this significant outlay into a good value purchase. After all, Lukaku is only going to improve; his value will continue to increase -- just look at his age, goals record and obvious potential.
The key now, with Lukaku back at the club permanently, is, much like teammate Ross Barkley, ensuring progress materialises on the pitch. Greater consistency tends to arrive with experience, and it is certainly going to be important moving forward, as Lukaku tended to score in patches last term.
Bursting onto the scene, Lukaku notched eight times in his first nine matches, but a run of one in nine followed. This pattern persisted throughout the season after a brief spell out injured: five goals in seven, then no goals in four before ending the season with two in two games.
Nonetheless, overall, that criticism is perhaps a tad harsh for a player still developing, especially as Lukaku has plenty of time on his side -- not to mention the excellent tutelage of Martinez to guide him.
Lukaku on the right wing against Arsenal remains the often-quoted, most relevant example of the respect and understanding between the two. Rather than sulk, as many a young forward might have, Lukaku delivered an accomplished display, sticking admirably to the instructions of his manager. The sight of Lukaku running straight to the bench to celebrate with Martinez is one of the defining images of the match, if not the season.
The young Belgian finished the season with 15 goals (and six assists), the best goal tally by an Everton forward in the Premier League since Yakubu in 2007-08. Lukaku has 32 goals and 10 assists in the past two league seasons. For a player barely 21 years of age, those are standout figures.
Strength, pace and finishing ability were the prominent attributes last season, while the main aspects requiring attention may surprise, given his stature. Ball control occasionally disappeared, hold-up play remained surprisingly ineffective and work rate drew criticism from some supporters. Movement also tended to blow hot and cold, depending on form.
Finally, though, the desired platform is in place. Martinez has his man, and Lukaku is settled at a progressive club, one that he knows and enjoys.
The stage is set for next season and beyond.
If there is one manager capable of overseeing continual growth in Lukaku's game, it is Martinez. The careful management and subsequent exploits of Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu and John Stones in the last campaign reinforce such a view.
After a low-key start to the summer, and several years away from the top transfer table, Everton are baring their teeth -- and it is a mightily impressive sight.