Steve Clarke admits he has to plan a West Bromwich Albion future without Romelu Lukaku – although he hasn’t given up on tempting back the Chelsea striker for next season.
The Hawthorns head coach was thrilled his former club looked favourably on his plea to take the Belgian teenager last August and will try to thrash out another long-term loan for him this summer.
But the issue is clouded by uncertainty over the identity of Chelsea’s manager for 2013-14 and the lack of any signals yet as to whether the Europa League semi-finalists see the player as a likely contender for their first team in a few months’ time.
“Romelu has to go back to Chelsea at the end of this season and I’m 99% sure he will do pre-season there,” Clarke said. “Then they will presumably decide whether he comes out again somewhere on loan.
“We have to develop and build the squad without knowing, unless Chelsea say (quickly) we can have him, which I very much doubt.
“I would love him to stay but we have to plan for life without him. If he does come back out on loan, I think we will be in a good position because he’s really happy here.
“He’s one of a number of good professionals we have at the club and he works hard to improve.”
Lukaku has scored 13 times for Albion and leads their goal charts for the season, elevating himself in the process on to the shortlist for the PFA Young Player of the Year award.
Clarke has played down any thoughts, though, that the 19-year-old is indebted to his temporary club for finding himself bracketed alongside the likes of Gareth Bale, Christian Benteke and Jack Wilshere in the voting.
“He doesn’t owe it to us,” he added. “We have just been part of the process that has got him there.”
The Baggies boss has sidestepped questions about whether he might ponder a summer move for another forward with Chelsea connections, Manchester City’s Scott Sinclair, and is set to have a touch of youth in his squad for tomorrow’s game at Southampton.
Although Kemar Roofe is ruled out through an injury suffered in an Under-21 game against the Saints since he was named in the senior squad last weekend, Donervorn Daniels might travel to the South Coast.
Albion are still without midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu, who serves the final part of a three-game ban arising from his red-mist sending-off at West Ham last month, and have doubts over Billy Jones and skipper Chris Brunt.