Chelsea completed the transfer of Romelu Lukaku to Everton for a fee of £28 million on Wednesday, per BBC Sport. After two loan spells in three years, the 21-year-old felt the time was right to move to a club where he would be afforded first-choice status up front, per GetWestLondon:
Chelsea are a big club and sometimes it is difficult for young players to come through. But they gave me the opportunity to come to England. Chelsea are a big club and taught me how to be professional. When I came to England I was 18 and knew nothing about being professional. I was very ambitious but Chelsea taught me about a work ethics and winning mentality.
I don't have negative feelings about that football club. But I want to have a good career. Because in football sometimes a career is only 10 years and I didn't want to spend 10 years on the bench… I'm 21 it's time to have a stable career as well. It was important to be somewhere like this.
Having joined Chelsea in 2011 amid the fanfare of being dubbed "the next Drogba," Lukaku found chances hard to come by. He made eight appearances for the first team in the domestic competitions but was not involved in the triumphant Champions League campaign, leading him to refuse to hold the trophy.
A promising season on loan at West Bromwich Albion ensued, with Lukaku scoring 17 goals in 38 appearances for the Baggies. Despite that return, he failed to break into Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side for the 2013-14 season.
The catalyst for the decision to loan him to Everton seemed to come after the UEFA Super Cup defeat to Bayern Munich. Lukaku had volunteered to take the fifth penalty and missed, causing him to break down in tears as the German side went on to triumph.
While the passion that his reaction proved was positive, it also highlighted the fact that the striker had a lot of growing up to do before he could reliably lead the line for Chelsea week in, week out.
There is no doubting Lukaku’s ability, although he is far from the finished product he believes he is. His offside awareness still needs work, and he has a tendency to go missing for large periods of matches.
These issues would have been simple enough to work on were it not for his attitude. Mourinho highlighted that as the main issue in his statement on the striker’s departure, per the official Chelsea website:
First of all, Romelu was always very clear in his mentality. He wanted to play for Chelsea but he wanted to be clearly the first-choice striker which, in a club of our dimension, is very difficult to promise to a player…
The important thing is that he is happy and things work well for him. He is a good kid. He has a way of organising his career project. The only thing we can do is to wish him well because we had him here last season and he’s a good kid. He deserves luck, he deserves to be happy. Chelsea Football Club wishes him well.
He firmly believed he should be first-choice striker at Chelsea, yet he was unwilling to prove that by fighting for his place from the bench. Had he decided to stay at Stamford Bridge and challenge Samuel Eto'o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba last season, Lukaku could have made a future for himself at the club he had wanted to join since his first visit in 2010.
Instead, he chose the easy route and went on loan to Everton.
There is a chance Chelsea will find themselves in need of a fourth striker next season. Diego Costa has been excellent in pre-season, but overreliance on him could well cause a recurrence of his hamstring injury. That situation would leave Chelsea with Didier Drogba and Torres, the former being 36 years old and the latter being Torres.
If that happens, there will certainly be a backlash against the decision to sell Lukaku, but it will be terribly misguided.
If he was unwilling to challenge Eto'o, Torres and Ba last season, would Lukaku really have fought Costa for his place?
Chelsea need to win silverware next season, and Lukaku has not yet proved he would be the only striker to guide them to that goal. Costa, in just two pre-season games, has already shown promise that he will.
Patrick Bamford and Dominic Solanke have also shown plenty of potential, and although they will not be included in the squad, Mourinho will be able to call on them for the domestic cup competitions at least.
Mourinho is in the process of building a new era at Chelsea. He has made it clear that youth players will be given opportunities in the coming seasons, and he has built a squad with enough experience that they will be learning from the best.
It is a shame Lukaku will not be a part of the Special One’s new project, but as the striker himself said, "Things happen in football and sometimes it is not meant to be."