KEY MAN: Romelu Lukaku is one goal shy of Duncan Ferguson's Premier League record.

For all the focus on players arriving at Everton with the help of Farhad Moshiri’s millions, retaining one of the current crop remains significantly more important.

Romelu Lukaku has his critics, those who say he doesn’t work hard enough, that he needs to run more, defend from the front and press opponents into making mistakes.

And while it’s true that the sprinting statistics and distance numbers do not often read well for the Belgian striker, it must not be forgotten that he deals in a far more crucial aspect of the game.

LEGEND: Duncan Ferguson is Everton’s all time top Premier League goal scorer.

One more goal in the Premier League will see him move level with Duncan Ferguson’s club record total of 60. If he finds the back of the net against Sunderland, he will have achieved it in just 129 games – almost half the amount it took the big Scot.

Instead of detracting from Ferguson’s achievements, that comparison should be used to highlight just what an integral part of the team Lukaku has become since originally signing on loan for the 2013-14 season.

Since then he has bagged an incredible 78 goals in all competitions, including a whopping 25 last term. With 17 already to his name this season, Lukaku could be set for his best goalscoring campaign in a royal blue shirt.

The fact that he has achieved all of this at the tender age of 23 – and in a side which seriously struggled for large parts of the previous two seasons under Roberto Martinez – only makes his goal return even more impressive.

The challenge for Everton now is to tie Lukaku down to a new long-term contract with wages which befit his ability and realistic promises regarding his goals for the future, namely playing in the Champions League.

The former Chelsea forward has spoken openly about his desire to play at the highest level, to test himself in Europe’s top club competition and challenge for honours. His consistency in front of goal – and recent form in particular – suggest he is more than capable.

Talks over a new deal are continuing, with Lukaku’s representative, Mino Raiola, recently reiterating that his client was happy on Merseyside and would definitely be committing his future to the Blues rather than seeking a move away.

Raiola’s words are encouraging, particularly since he once claimed that Lukaku would never have joined Everton permanently had he been in charge of his affairs in the summer of 2014. We have Moshiri’s money – and Bill Kenwright’s charm – to thank for the super agent’s improved stance towards the club.

But until we receive confirmation of the contract and see pictures of Rom smiling with pen in hand, it is only natural to fear losing our best striker in over two decades to one of the game’s giants, or an oil-rich club like Chelsea or Paris Saint-Germain.

Goalscorers like Lukaku, a player with pace, strength, vision and a natural ability to put the ball in the back of the net, are a rare commodity. When you factor in his age as well, it’s easy to see why he will be in such high demand in the years to come.

Keeping Lukaku at Goodison for the rest of his career may well prove to be unrealistic, but if the club harbour genuine ambitions of breaking into the top four and winning trophies again then retaining the services of our best player – at least for Ronald Koeman’s crucial second season – is an absolute must.

We’ve seen how the club have struggled to find adequate back-up for our main man – now imagine trying to sign a player to replace him. Even with Steve Walsh scouring the world for talent and a huge transfer kitty at our disposal, it would be far from easy.

There are other pros to Lukaku signing a new deal, too. He can help attract other big names. He’s marketable. And if he has a change of heart and tries to force a move away in 2018, we can command an even bigger fee.

As debate continues to rage about Everton’s January business and we gradually start to look ahead to a hugely important summer transfer window, Lukaku’s new deal deserves to be at the top of the club’s priorities.

Forget his sometimes dodgy first touch and those games where he doesn’t look quite up for it, he is irreplaceable.


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