It’s finally over.
The Romelu Lukaku saga, inevitable as it was, has finally come to an end. The Belgian striker has all but officially left Everton for Manchester United, bringing the Toffees a record transfer fee of £75 million (not to mention potential add-ons and its help in bringing Wayne Rooney back to Goodison Park). We may have tried to deny it for a long time, but in reality, we all knew this day was coming.
Lukaku has come to be more than good enough to ply his trade at bigger clubs with higher aspirations, and there’s nothing Everton could do about that. Acknowledging that fact is frustrating, as the club and its new money are closer to a big breakthrough than they’ve been in years — but Ronald Koeman and co. still aren’t close enough to keep their marquee player on board.
And that sucks.
But in recent weeks and months, I’ve seen many of my fellow Everton supporters vent their frustrations at not the situation, the nature of the Premier League, or the clubs circling for Lukaku’s services — but at the player himself. Lukaku hasn’t exactly made himself a difficult target, with comments on international duty and various other extracurricular activities putting his motives into question.
The frustration, in my estimation, stems from a belief that Romelu Lukaku ‘owes’ Everton something for his time spent at the club — be it a better attitude, improved play, silence while with Belgium, or any number of other behaviors. With the 24-year-old off to play for a title and the Champions League, it may be hard to hear what I’m about to say then, but it’s important.
Romelu Lukaku doesn’t owe Everton Football Club a damn thing.
Maybe in another time, place, or era that would be different. But we are where we are — modern English football in the year 2017 — and the reality of that backdrop reflects this hard truth. Most importantly, you can acknowledge this fact while still understanding that Lukaku hasn’t done himself any favors — by partying in Los Angeles, publicizing his time with Paul Pogba, or publishing a pretty underwhelming thank you to Everton Football Club.
I want to touch on three important points that highlight my main thesis, ultimately that those of us who maintain Lukaku needs to show the Toffees more respect are simply off-base.
The Narrative of ‘Everton Gave Lukaku a Chance’ is Massively Flawed
One of the major underlying sentiments that’s given rise to this sense of Lukaku’s debt to the club is that the Toffees gave Lukaku, a Chelsea outcast at the time, a chance at a fresh start with his initial loan in 2013-14.
It’s a convenient narrative from an Everton supporter’s perspective, particularly given the club’s general good-guy image, but it’s utterly farcical.
Recall that in the previous season, 2012-13, Lukaku was on loan at West Bromwich Albion — putting up 17 goals in 35 league matches. The idea that the Toffees “took a chance on” a player who was coming off a 17 goal season with the eighth-placed Baggies is silly.
West Brom surely would have been happy to take the Belgian striker back on loan, in addition to a number of other clubs across Europe. Lukaku was still young and a little unproven, yes, but 20-year-olds who score 17 goals in England don’t grow on trees.
If Everton hadn’t grabbed the Belgian on loan in 2013-14, someone else would have (even if it had taken until January). If Everton hadn’t bought Lukaku after his 15-goal 2013-14 season, someone else would have.
Big-time players will always have suitors, and even as far back as the summer of 2013, Lukaku was growing into a big-time player. Everton signed him because he he could help take the club to the next level — and another club would have happily done the same in 2013 or 2014 if the Toffees didn’t.
Clubs Don’t Treat Players Like They Owe Them Anything — Why Should Players Be Any Different with Clubs?
A fair bit of anti-Lukaku sentiment also grows from a widely-held, somewhat vague belief that ‘players don’t show loyalty to their clubs anymore’. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that there isn’t a fair bit of truth in that sentiment — but I am going to say that loyalty and respect are a two-way street, and clubs reap what they sow in terms of player loyalty.
As Everton supporters — individuals behind an organization often called ‘the People’s Club’ — we often feel that our favorite team is superior in the way it treats fans, players, and those surrounding it. But even at Everton, the club’s treatment of players can be questionable.
The obvious example is Oumar Niasse, brought in months before the end of the Roberto Martinez era and not fancied by new manager Ronald Koeman. The Dutchman banished him to the U-23s, didn’t assign him a squad number, and didn’t even grant him the basic courtesy of a locker in the dressing rooms. He was mercifully granted a loan to Hull City in January.
Niasse didn’t do anything on a personal level to earn that treatment — he just wasn’t of the quality that his new manager demanded.
Luke Garbutt has faced a somewhat similar fate under multiple managers. Signed by David Moyes in 2011, the now 24-year-old has gone out on loan to four different teams, most recently Wigan Athletic from August 2016 to January 2017. Since his return from loan, he is... well... nobody is really quite sure.
He’s aged out of the U-23 system, doesn’t appear to be good enough for Everton’s first team, and is now caught in limbo with three more years left on his contract with the club. There’s a real possibility that this awkward spell could wreck his footballing career.
I’m not suggesting that Everton or Koeman have done anything wrong, both by rule or moral, with either player — there are multiple sides to every story. The club knows this is a results business — you do everything you possibly can to win, because that’s what the highest level of professional football is about. You can think that’s wrong, but you can’t argue that clubs behave that way.
And if it’s acceptable for clubs to treat players’ careers as tools for their collective growth, even sometimes at the expense of a player’s individual growth or success, how can we expect players to behave differently toward clubs?
Why should Romelu Lukaku, watching his club hide Niasse and Garbutt in a proverbial broom closet, refuse a move that furthers his own career and ambition — when he knows that any major club in the world would treat him the same way if the situation was the same?
The answer is simple — he shouldn’t. If he’s got a chance to further his career by leaving an old club behind, he’s got every right to pursue that and doesn’t owe the club anything during that process. Could he have done it more discreetly? Likely, but nothing that he’s done has harmed Everton in any tangible way — so it’s unfair to say he owes the Toffees even that.
If not for Romelu Lukaku, Everton’s Summer of Spending Probably Couldn’t Exist
Frankly, I think it is easy to argue that any debt that exists between Lukaku and Everton actually flows in the other direction.
We are in the midst of the most exciting summer in recent memory, powered by several expensive signings, financed by the money of new owner Farhad Moshiri. The Iranian businessman bought Everton in February of 2016, at a time when its on-field assets weren’t exactly at their peak.
John Stones was struggling through a mediocre season after Everton’s refusal to sell him over the summer, the club’s marquee signings of the season were Ramiro Funes Mori, Aaron Lennon, and Oumar Niasse, and the results were middling. The Toffees were a club with a storied history, rabid backing from their community, but failing to live up to full potential.
The shining light throughout Roberto Martinez’s tenure was Romelu Lukaku, whose goals drove Everton into the Europa League in 2014-15, whose play kept Everton from slipping into an uncomfortably-nearby relegation battle, and whose ability kept the Toffees in a lot of matches.
Do you think an Everton without Romelu Lukaku — a club that still had players like Nikica Jelavic, Steven Naismith, or Jermaine Beckford leading the line — would have attracted Farhad Moshiri? Not likely.
Though Lukaku is now departed, he leaves more than just a massive transfer fee behind at Everton. It was his play that kept Everton competitive during difficult times, attracting a new owner who may now legitimately push the Toffees into a top-four discussion.
The point is simple — Everton didn’t do Romelu Lukaku any favors by acquiring him via loan in 2013-14 or on a permanent basis in 2014-15. The Toffees added the Belgian striker because he could, and did, help them win football matches. If the club hadn’t moved to bring him on board, someone else would have gladly taken a 20-year-old capable of 15+ goal seasons.
The Toffees ended up being a very good fit for Lukaku, but that doesn’t mean he owes them anything at this stage of his career. The likely world record fee that the Everton will get from his sale should adequately recompense the club as they add more weapons to the armory. This sport is a business, and Everton and Romelu Lukaku had a mutually beneficial relationship for four years.
Now that the relationship is over, and both parties walk away in a better position than they were four years ago, Romelu Lukaku doesn’t owe Everton a damn thing.