Name: Romelu Lukaku Age: 19
Club: West Brom (On loan from Chelsea)
Position: Striker Nationality: Belgian
At just 19 years old, Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku is on the verge of becoming the seventh Premier League player to score in double figures this campaign. An impressive achievement from just over 900 minutes of action.
Lukaku is no revelation. This is, after all, a player who joined Premier League giants Chelsea for a fee approaching 20 million pounds as an 18-year-old; a player who had twice broken the 15-league goal mark in Belgium before he even reached adulthood. His high-profile 2011 move to West London, though, did not work out as planned.
Lukaku is not the first youngster to have found himself struggling for playing time after a transfer and, in truth, he was just one of several victims of Chelsea's internal disarray during the 2011-12 season. Quickly labelled a flop by many in the media, despite his tender age and less than three hours of Premier League football to his name, Lukaku has made his resentment of his predicament clear.
Having made headlines last summer by distancing himself from the club's Champions League success, in which he played little part, Lukaku took control of his career by forcing a loan move away from the Blues. A move abroad was speculated, but it was West Brom where he eventually landed.
A few months down the line and it would appear that the teenager's decision to push for a move has paid off handsomely. It was a bold step for one so young. Lukaku, though, has quickly achieved his long-held aim of proving himself in the Premier League.
Since entering the festive season, the young forward has started four of his side's past five Premier League fixtures - with the experience of Shane Long favoured only against Manchester United. Lukaku has comfortably outscored both Long and Nigerian Peter Odemwingie this season and now appears to have crowbarred his way into the side's central striker berth, ahead of his two well-respected positional rivals.
Saturday's performance, against an admittedly very poor Reading defence, epitomised Lukaku's season. By the end of the 90 minutes, he had scored twice, hit the post, had a goal ruled out for offside and missed a presentable headed opportunity. With the assistance of the excellent James Morrison, he terrorised the Royals the entire match and no doubt bemoaned his misfortune at ending the fixture on the losing side.
Lukaku's strength and power are clear to see - he can accelerate with surprising speed for a man of such intimidating physical stature (6 feet 3, 207 pounds). Combine that with the intelligent movement that he has demonstrated on a regular basis this season and it's fairly clear that we are dealing with a player of considerable potential—as was evident at Anderlecht. The clumsy centre-forward who was seemingly trying too hard to seize his brief opportunities at Chelsea is, indeed, a world away from the Lukaku that Baggies fans have come to recognise.
There are still faults to his game, as there are with every player. The 18-cap international is still far too profligate in front of goal and caught offside on an annoyingly frequent basis. What he does do, though, is create enough chances to generally make up for those deficiencies.
Against Reading, his missed chances could have won the game for his side. However, by the same token, it was Lukaku who initially put West Brom in a winning position. Whether the club's other strikers would have done so is highly debatable. This kind of profligacy is perfectly common so early in a young striker's development and, so long as he is creating opportunities in such number, it will not be of great concern to his manager.
Last week, the deadline passed for Chelsea to be able to recall the player during this January transfer window and Lukaku will remain at The Hawthorns until at least the end of the campaign. The player, though, has made clear his desire for a longer sojourn in the Midlands.
"At the end of my career, if I have had a chance at a really top team I think I will be a very happy man. We will see if I get that chance at Chelsea," Lukaku told reporters this weekend. "The next two years will be good for me at West Brom. They will help me build up for a great career, that is for sure... I think it will be more beneficial to stay here than go back to Chelsea.”
His frustration with life at Chelsea is understandable and, with his career back on track at West Brom, he has shown little desire to return to London anytime soon. A permanent move, given the potential cost , remains unlikely. However, he may be in a position to force a second season with West Brom, in order to continue his development with regular exposure to Premier League football.
If Chelsea, as reported, do look to add Colombian Radamel Falcao to their ranks this summer, it may spell the end of Lukaku's long-term future at Stamford Bridge. For now, though, the Blues may just have found a suitable location for their talent to develop his skills away from the club.
It's a shame, though, that it was left to the player to decide that he needed to leave Chelsea in order to progress. The threat of stagnation at Cobham has unfortunately harmed the promising careers of too many young players in recent years.
For further discussion on any of the players featured in The Scout’s Notebook, Christopher can be found on Twitter - @chris_elastico