Romelu Lukaku never dreamed of playing for Everton; it was always the blue of Chelsea the Belgian wanted to adorn. Yet reality often surprises and that is why in 2013, Lukaku put his childhood ambition on hold and relocated to Goodison Park.
“I just turned 20, at the end of the season we had the World Cup in Brazil. I really wanted to play in a team that plays good football and where I’d be in the starting 11.
“Then Everton came with Roberto Martinez. He called me two hours before the deadline. I spoke to Demba Ba and he said, ‘Rom, what are you going to do? Are you staying or leaving?'”
Lukaku was keen to return to West Bromwich Albion, the club at which he has spent the previous campaign on loan from Chelsea, who he joined in 2011 from Anderlecht.
The desire to compete nearer the top of the Premier League proved too strong, however. Lukaku signed with Everton on a season-long loan and made the move permanent the following year.
It was a somewhat acrimonious switch; the Belgium international earned the scorn of Jose Mourinho for his decision.
“He was not highly motivated to come to a competitive situation at Chelsea,” the Portuguese said. “He wanted to play for Chelsea, but clearly only as the first-choice striker. At a club of our dimension, it’s very difficult to promise a player that status.”
At Everton, Lukaku was the main man. He struck 87 goals in 166 matches under Roberto Martinez and Ronald Koeman and earned the adulation of the blue half of Merseyside.
It was at Goodison Park that Lukaku went from burgeoning talent to one of Europe’s most feared attackers. His game was rounded out by Martinez and further honed under Koeman.
“Him and his brother Erwin, they worked with me in a way as player and as a person,” Lukaku recalled. “They just got me At that moment I was 23 or 24, I was young, I needed that.”
The allure of Chelsea always remained, though. In the summer of 2016, there was an offer on the table from the Blues for Lukaku to return to Stamford Bridge. He wanted to go but Koeman convinced him to see out another year at Everton.
Lukaku was never going to be satisfied at Goodison, though. He scored plenty of goals but always wanted more. He wanted trophies and he made that clear in March 2017.
“You cannot be remembered by scoring goals, you want to be remembered by winning trophies,” he said. “That is what the fans want. So, instead of living in the past, you have to think ahead.”
Again, Chelsea were ready to bring Lukaku home. Antonio Conte desperately wanted the Belgian and thought he had secured his services as a replacement for Diego Costa. Yet Lukaku moved to Manchester United instead. Conte was left furious and the Blues were very unhappy with his then-agent, Mino Raiola.
That felt like an end to the will-they-won’t-they relationship between Lukaku and Chelsea. He had the opportunity to live out his dream on three occasions yet neither worked out. But destiny can’t be run from.
This summer, after two seasons at Manchester United and two at Inter, Lukaku returned to Chelsea in a deal worth £97.5million. He was finally back and ready to fulfill his childhood ambition.
“It is good to be back,” Lukaku said in August. “As a footballer, you fight to achieve your dreams. I’m here now can’t wait to be on the pitch and perform with my teammates.”
Lukaku was as close to a guarantee of goals that Chelsea could sign in the transfer market – his time at Everton was proof of that – and the 28-year-old netted four times in his opening four matches.
Things have been a little tough for Belgium’s all-time leading scorer since. Partly due to injury and partly due to form, Lukaku has struck just once since September.
He will be out to change that on Thursday night. And few supporters know better than Everton’s that few can stop Lukaku when he has a point to prove.