Romelu Lukaku is 23 years old but he’s already one of the world’s best goalscorers
Romelu Lukaku is 23 years old. On Monday, he scored a hat trick in 12 minutes for Everton against Sunderland, taking his career tally to 122 goals.
At the same age, Ronaldo had scored 110 goals, Luis Suarez 107, Wayne Rooney 100 and Zlatan Ibrahimovic 65.
That's not bad company.
Lukaku's been a pro since 16 years old, and he made his debut for Anderlecht just 11 days after his birthday. That year he won top goalscorer in Belgium's Pro League, the youngest to ever do so. It was pretty clear early on that he was a star in the making, and yet he's still somehow flown under the radar.
But it's ridiculous.
The man whose first name is a portmanteau of his father's three names (ROger MEnama LUkaku) is, in real life, a portmanteau of a Sherman tank, an Olympic sprinter and a young Shaquille O'Neal.
Lukaku is pacy, strong as an ox and a true predator in the box. At 6-foot-3 and over 200 lbs, he's impossible to cow physically and, although his first touch does need improvement and he's sometimes prone to giving the ball away, in general, his hold-up play is fantastic. Despite having one of the most powerful shots in the game, he's got a deft finishing touch, and has steadily improved his weaker right foot over the years.
He's not just a physical specimen, either. Lukaku is remarkably well-rounded, and former Everton boss Roberto Martinez summed it up last year after he scored his 50th goal in 100 appearances for the Toffees.
“He is such a unique No. 9,” said Martinez. “Normally No. 9s master one aspect — they can hold the ball up, they are strong or they have got pace, they are finishers — but I think Rom can be everything and I think that is a phenomenal attribute for our team.”
Belgium's former manager Marc Wilmots said much the same about young Romelu in an interview during Euro 2016: “He runs all the time and tires out defenses, creates space for others. Believe me, defenders, when they are up against him, are not laughing.”
With his strength, intelligent movement, understanding of the game and finishing ability, Lukaku has every single tool needed to be successful. And he has been so far. He's been criticized throughout his career for his struggles to find consistency, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a 23-year-old professional who doesn't have the same issues. You'd also be hard-pressed to find one with 122 goals to his name.
Lukaku's aware that he needs to get better, and he told reporters “I have to be more of a serial killer” after his hat trick against Sunderland. And he is getting better. He scored 16 goals in his first season for Everton, 20 the year after that, and 25 last year. He's slowly starting to iron out some of the mistakes of his young career and rounding into a complete striker.
The scary part about Lukaku is that he's far from being a complete striker, and he's still only 23 years old. 122 goals. At 23 years old. Professional soccer players typically don't hit their peak till the age of 26, 27, or even later. Lukaku's seemed to thrive under the influence of Ronald Koeman at Everton, and with Roberto Martinez and Thierry Henry in his ear for Belgium, he's surrounded by a group of coaches who understand how to make him better and are committed to helping him achieve his full potential to become one of the greats.
We'll see how quickly the next 122 goals come.
MORE FROM FOX SOCCER: