By Alex Leonard
Everton Football Club are indebted to Romelu Lukaku. When the Belgian joined the Blues permanently after Roberto Martinez’s debut season at Goodison Park it is unlikely he imagined he would be involved in consecutive ugly mid-table scraps. As the Spaniard’s miserable fall gathered momentum Lukaku remained relatively consistent. Without his goals Everton would likely have been in serious trouble.
The Belgian must look upon those two campaigns as two campaigns wasted. A footballer’s playing career is limited and he is already nearly 24. Therefore, while it is hardly inspiring news that Lukaku has will not be signing a new contract, it is not surprising. Any Evertonian unaware of Lukaku’s desire to play in the Champions League must have been living in a cave since he moved to Goodison.
It is unfortunate that Everton are not further along with their project; if that were the case and a top four finish was a genuine possibility or even a reality it is entirely possible the forward would commit his future to the Blues. But of course Everton cannot promise him Champions League football right now and it would be wrong to blame him for wanting it.
As the club enters its new era with Moshiri at the helm there are going to be steep learning curves. Last summer provided a significant one: that it is not possible to sign top class players simply by throwing money at them. This scenario is the next; Lukaku and his agent will know that a £90m release clause means he would be tied to Everton for the considerable future. He evidently does not want that – meaning this is perhaps the second notable case of the board being somewhat naïve. And it is unfortunate timing given how well Koeman’s men have been performing of late.
A top four finish and Champions League football is a must if Everton want truly stellar players among their ranks and the same rule applies to Lukaku. Perhaps even a blank cheque would not be enough to persuade him to stay at the club at this moment in time – and realistically it is hard not to admire him for wanting to test himself against the best in Europe.
Although there is much for Evertonians to console themselves with if indeed the striker does depart. A new stadium is finally and quickly becoming a reality and with Moshiri’s experience and wealth the club would not suffer for long if they were to sell; indeed they may well prosper immediately. The primary reason Steve Walsh was appointed was to structure the club so that players and coaches can be swiftly and intelligently replaced and the Blues can progress as a result. Perhaps in this instance it is necessary to take a step back in order to move forward. Walsh and the club will be prepared for the worst; indeed, it has always seemed a case of when rather than if this situation would arise.
Yet at the same time it is not inconceivable that Lukaku will still be wearing royal blue next season. Two years remain on his contract and the club can exercise its right to hold him to that. Therefore, it is imperative those on the board act intelligently from this summer onwards and do so with the club’s best interests at heart; for Everton is bigger than any player and the possible departure of Romelu Lukaku should in no way disrupt the promising future on the pitch, now seemingly just on the horizon, that all Evertonians have dreamed of for decades.