The 19-yard-old rising star has been on loan with the Baggies since the beginning of the season, and he will walk into Stamford Bridge on Saturday as a visitor.
Acquired as a long-term investment for Chelsea, Lukaku's time at The Hawthorns has vaulted him into the elite stratosphere. He's leading the surprising seventh-place West Brom squad in goals (12) and has even gotten some buzz for England's Young Player of the Season award.
With such an ascendant season in the works, many have wondered what Chelsea will do with Lukaku for next season. They have the first option on bringing him back into the fold and may want to continue his development in-house.
However, West Brom coach Steve Clarke has admitted he would welcome Lukaku back with open arms in 2013-14 if given the opportunity. Though no move can ultimately be made until the next transfer window, Clarke was very clear in his adoration for the breakout star.
"If Chelsea want to leave him out for another season somewhere, I think we would have a strong chance of getting him back here, but it is a discussion for the summer," said Clarke (per the Daily Mirror).
Chelsea faces a very interesting decision with Lukaku this summer, and they will undoubtedly be tempted to bring him back. At just 19 years old, Lukaku has become one of the world's best young players and a vital cog in Chelsea's plans moving forward.
But his time at Stamford Bridge is over the next decade, not the next 12 months. Lukaku may be an interesting bench piece for Chelsea next year, but it's in their best long-term interest to keep him elsewhere for the time being—especially if West Brom is the destination.
If Lukaku stays at West Brom next season, he would have another full year to blossom as a team's top forward. He's already made leaps as a scorer and passer this season, and he would undoubtedly do the same in 2013-14.
Keeping Lukaku is the perfect "have your cake and eat it too" scenario. Lukaku would be training against Premier League teams as opposed to a second-tier league, and he would not be on a side that could keep Chelsea out of Champions League. West Brom is a much improved club, but their salary structure and mediocre surrounding cast relegates them to a mid-tier finish on almost a yearly basis.
On the other side, retaining the young forward's rights for next season may be crippling to his development. He would not be getting much playing time as a starter behind Fernando Torres and Juan Mata barring a transfer, which is the reason Lukaku was loaned out to West Brom in the first place.
Players with his limited level of experience need playing time. Sitting for Torres and Mata would do little except allow him to train with other elite forwards. West Brom or another top-level club would have Lukaku playing against other elite forwards in game competition.
At this stage of his development, field time—no matter where it comes from—takes precedence over everything. History is littered with young players whose play stagnated at a very young age because of his home club's stubborn policies.
The only reasonable argument against Chelsea allowing Lukaku to stay on the Baggies' side would be if they are fearful of losing his commitment. He is, after all, a star in the making. And Chelsea would also be living a nightmare if a Lukaku goal this or next season cost them critical table points.
However, if it did not bother Chelsea this season, it shouldn't next. West Brom is the best place for Lukaku now and next season; let's hope Chelsea realizes that before making a critical mistake in his development.