He never scored for Chelsea. He was denied from taking a penalty by his head coach at Manchester United while he was on a goal drought. His first touch has been the subject of jokes on message boards around the internet for years. During his youth career with Lierse his opponents’ parents used to ask for his I.D. to make sure he actually played for that team. Well, up to the semifinals of the world’s most prominent tournament, his name is without a doubt in the list of the top players.
Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has been one of the most effective players in the World Cup thus far. Ex-Manchester United center back Rio Ferdinand even suggested that Lukaku shouldn't be allowed to play in the World Cup because of his superhuman strength.
“It's like playing in the school playground and you have a 16-year-old playing against the 11-year-olds. It's like that he's too big and too strong for everyone,” Ferdinand told BBC Sport. “He almost shouldn't be allowed to play with them!'”
The striker stands at 6’3’’ and weighs 207 pounds.
Lukaku is the second-best scorer of the tournament so far, netting four goals in as many matches. The 25-year-old started his 2018 WC goal tally with a diving header in the group stages versus Panama in the 69th minute. Six minutes later, the striker lit up the scoreboard again as he lifted the ball over keeper Jaime Penedo with his favorite left foot on a counter. That wasn’t his only brace in the WC, Lukaku also scored a double against Tunisia with two low-drives to complete his four-goal tally.
Strangely enough strength barely played any part in the big man’s goals. The leading factor of his goal scoring ability this summer has been his movement off the ball. The Manchester United forward sprinted to a patch of space in front of Ramon Torres on the left flank before netting his second goal versus Panama. Moreover, prior to his first goal versus Tunisia, Lukaku faked a run to the middle of his opponents’ defense on a counter before going to the left, juking Ben Yousseff. And for his second goal against the African side, the former Everton star made an exquisite lateral run through the heart of their defense—while staying onside.
Lukaku’s movement off the ball also leads to his teammates scoring. In the quarter-final versus Japan, the Antwerp native opened up space in Japan’s defense by drawing two defenders with him before dummying the ball to Nacer Chadli, who scored the last-minute winner. In Belgium’s following match versus Brazil, head coach Roberto Martinez used Lukaku as a right forward. The Belgian took advantage of the spaces Marcelo left behind from his overlapping runs, bursting into Brazil’s defensive third when they lost the ball. But most importantly in that game, Lukaku made a dashing 60-yard run after a Brazilian giveaway through the middle of the pitch to usher De Bruyne to the eventual game-winning goal.
"Everyone thinks Romelu Lukaku is just about goals, goals, goals, but I want to be seen as an all-rounder. Providing assists is also important,” the 25-year-old said about his performance versus the five-time World Cup champions, “and this year I have provided more than ever. Of course I want to score but, at the same time, I try to work as hard as I can for the team."
"I don't have to prove myself any more [as a goal scorer]. Everyone knows I can score with every chance provided to me in the box, but the individual doesn't count here."
Assisting a winner against Brazil in a World Cup quarterfinal match could be a defining moment in his career. Up next, Lukaku will play the most important game of his life on Tuesday: a semifinal versus a fierce France side.
Les Bleus conceded the least goals going into the semifinals alongside Croatia and Belgium. Lukaku will be going against top-notch center backs Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti. However if he plays right back as he did last game, the United star will go against a less eminent defender, Real Madrid 20-year-old left back Theo Hernandez.
Lukaku has never won a trophy with Belgium.