Sometimes, football is an obvious game. Sometimes, it is not.
When Chelsea bought Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku from Anderlecht in 2011, it was thought Didier Drogba’s replacement had arrived in the Premier League. Tall, strong but also capable with the ball at his feet, the highly talented Lukaku was to become a constitutive element of the Chelsea of the future.
But three years later, Lukaku is forgotten, discarded by Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho like a youth player who just isn’t capable.
Perhaps as a consequence of this rejection, Lukaku underperformed during the World Cup in Brazil. Following the injury of Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke, Lukaku was looked at to provide Belgium with goals, but he failed to score when it truly mattered. Lukaku’s pace and tendency to intelligently position himself had abandoned him: What we saw was a player with dented confidence.
No wonder, then, manager Marc Wilmots substituted Lukaku during the second half of Belgium’s group-stage match against Algeria. Off with the underwhelming former prodigy, on with the new blood. Divock Origi, one of Belgium’s latest wonder kids, was allowed to make his World Cup debut.
Immediately, it became apparent Origi played with the swagger and confidence Lukaku so dearly lacked. This almost made the substitution symbolic. Move over, Lukaku, the world of football has moved on to the latest hype, aggrandising up the latest talented youngster appearing on the world stage.
But it wasn’t just sentiment. Origi clearly was a talented and able striker, showing an ability to pierce opposition’s defences by cleverly running into the space they left behind them. What’s more, it became clear it wasn’t an easy task to push the striker off the ball. Much like the young Lukaku, Origi somehow combined dexterity and strength with a certain nimbleness.
After the World Cup, Liverpool acted decisively. Reportedly paying a £10 million fee, the Merseyside club bought Origi from French side Lille but immediately loaned him back for the 2014-15 season.
There you have it. Origi has manifested himself as a top talent, joined a top Premier League side and has been loaned out to further his development. Now, the comparisons to Lukaku are truly impossible to avoid.
But Divock Origi is not Romelu Lukaku, and the latter’s failure to break through at Chelsea should not prevent the former to aim for success at Liverpool. It should also not prevent Liverpool from loaning their new signing out to a club relatively smaller in stature.
Last year at Lille, Origi made a total of 29 appearances. While a young player like him needs ample playing time, it would be difficult to achieve a similar number at Liverpool. In this regard, the move makes sense from both the player’s and the club’s perspectives. Playing time is what Origi needs to become better, and that’s what he’ll get following his loan move.
At West Bromwich Albion and later at Everton, Lukaku got playing time, too. But Mourinho didn’t like what his former protege developed into. The coming season, it will be up to Origi to make sure Liverpool boss Brendan Rogers won’t develop a similar opinion about him.
The narratives surrounding Lukaku and Origi show many similarities, but at some point in the next year, or possibly the year thereafter, Origi’s storyline must break away.
To do that, he must remain at his old club for the time being, and he’ll need patience. Then, and only then, can he succeed where Lukaku failed.
Liverpool will undoubtedly realise this too. That’s why they will not regret not keeping their new striker at Anfield this year.
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