Making a Case for Romelu Lukaku to Win the PFA Player of the Year Award

Rob LancasterFeatured ColumnistApril 20, 2017

Romelu Lukaku could scoop the PFA double of Player and Young Player of the Year.
Romelu Lukaku could scoop the PFA double of Player and Young Player of the Year.Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

At the end of the 1985/86 season, Everton striker Gary Lineker not only topped the scoring charts in Division One but also scooped the prestigious PFA Player of the Year award. 

At the end of the current campaign, Romelu Lukaku could repeat Lineker's double.

The Belgian's strike against Burnley last Saturday maintained his four-goal cushion in the race to claim the Premier League's Golden Boot. On Sunday, he will find out if he has secured the PFA's top individual honour.

Everton fans will hope that's where the similarities end.

Before he became the face of Walkers crisps, and long before his first social-media spats with Arsenal fan Piers Morgan, Lineker scored 30 league goals in his one-and-only year at Goodison Park.

By the start of the following season, he was a Barcelona player. Terry Venables paid £2.8 million to take English football's most prolific frontman to Spain, giving the player the chance to play European football (English clubs were banned at the time following the Heysel disaster).

According to Phil Kirkbride of the Liverpool Echo, the Toffees have placed a £100 million price tag on Lukaku's head. Talk about inflation. Everton want a king's ransom, but don't be surprised if someone pays it.

Lukaku has managed 86 goals and 29 assists in 161 appearances for Everton, who stand to make a healthy profit on the £30.06 million they paid to Chelsea in July 2014.

The astronomical valuation suggests the Merseyside club are not necessarily interested in making money though. The player has two years remaining on his deal—a transfer stand-off looms on the horizon.

Suitors may initially scoff at the asking price, but it's hard not to be tempted by what Lukaku offers.

His physical traits are obvious; blessed with power and pace, the frontman can prosper with his back to goal as a focal point to play off and yet still spin in behind to exploit green space.

His goal against Burnley demonstrated just how tough he is to deal with. With Michael Keane tight to his back, Lukaku accepted a pass into his feet on the edge of the box, rolled his defender to face goal and then, after a short sprint, whistled a left-footed shot beyond goalkeeper Tom Heaton.

"He was always a clinical finisher but he seems to have gained in confidence in his own abilities since he has been at Everton," Lyndon Lloyd, chief writer, designer and developer at ToffeeWeb and 1878 magazine, told Bleacher Report.

"His goal against Burnley last Saturday was a case in point—he seems almost certain that once he has rolled a defender or out-stripped him for pace, he will invariably beat the goalkeeper in a one-on-one situation.

"In terms of simple technique, while not fully consistent, his touch and hold-up play has also improved.

"Both were a cause of concern among Evertonians when the team was struggling under Roberto Martinez but, perhaps because of that increasing confidence, he seems to be a more complete player."

It is easy to forget his age. While Lineker was approaching his 30th birthday when he left Everton, Lukaku—who is also on the shortlist to be named the PFA's Young Player of the Year—won't turn 24 until May 13.

It is a frightening thought that the powerhouse who has terrorised Premier League defences this season potentially hasn't yet reached his footballing peak. This season could just be the tip of the iceberg.

Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher told Joe Strange of the MailOnline how the thought of having to deal with players like Lukaku convinced him to hang up his boots in 2013:

I didn't want to go head-to-head with him when he was 17, 18 and he came on the scene.

I've still got visions of coming on as a sub for Liverpool away at West Brom about three or four years ago and trying to steal a ball in front of him and him just rolling me and running away from me.

He was one of the reasons why I retired, when I've seen players of that ability, that power, that strength. I thought it was time for me to finish.

While not quite a one-trick pony, Everton rely heavily on Lukaku.

His goals have underpinned a successful first year under manager Ronald Koeman. Ross Barkley, Seamus Coleman and Kevin Mirallas are tied together in second place in the club's scoring charts—on four. 

Lukaku's tally is even more impressive when you consider he doesn't take penalties. He's scored more Premier League goals this season than the entire Middlesbrough squad (23).

His competition total of 84 puts him level with Cristiano Ronaldo, who played 196 times in the competition for Manchester United. It's also 15 more than fellow PFA nominee Harry Kane, too.

Using Squawka Football's comparison matrix, you can see how the former Chelsea player is progressing with time.

This season—his third since signing permanently for Everton—he has posted his best shot accuracy (64 per cent) and has already won more aerial duels (115) compared to 2015/16 (93) and 2014/15 (62).

Per Squawka on Twitter, his conversion rate of 32.9 per cent is the best of any player with 15 or more Premier League goals this season.

The numbers suggest Lukaku is working out how to harness his physical abilities. The next step is to prove he can play at the highest level.

"Given the overall growth in his game as he has matured, the most obvious room for improvement is in his performances and goalscoring record against the top clubs," Lloyd said.

"He is scoring for fun against lower-placed teams but not against those in the top six.

"Much of that is clearly down to a lack of service in those more difficult games for the Everton team as a whole but there is a feeling that if he is the world-class forward he thinks he is, he should be offering more in the big games."

Lukaku has scored more Premier League goals this season than Middlesbrough's entire squad.
Lukaku has scored more Premier League goals this season than Middlesbrough's entire squad.OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

In an interview for Sky Sports, Carragher asked Lukaku how he compared to Luis Suarez and Robert Lewandowski, two of the best forwards around in European football.

"It's difficult to compare at the moment," he replied. "They have the Champions League platform to show themselves. Those are the top games where I need to show people I belong to them too."

Lukaku's goals have Everton on an upward curve. But, like the club itself, he still has steps to take. Those last few are the hardest to manage.

Critics will bring up his struggles against the top teams. There was a goal in each meeting with Manchester City this season, but he drew blanks in both games against Manchester United and Liverpool.

He also had to suffer through a 5-0 loss away at former club Chelsea last November, the kind of result that lingers long in the memory when considering your future options.

Everton have lofty ambitions. Plans are in place to build a new stadium, while major shareholder Farhad Moshiri's money tempted Koeman to swap the serenity of Southampton for the tricky task of competing with the big boys on a regular basis.

A top-seven finish would be a solid start to the new reign. It should secure European football, as one of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur—all contenders to finish in the top four in the league—will win the FA Cup, plus Manchester United could still go all the way in the UEFA Europa League.

Worryingly, though, Lukaku turned down a bumper new contract in March.

"No matter where you play you want to be remembered. You cannot only be remembered by scoring goals, you want to be remembered by winning trophies," he said, per Chris Bascombe of the Telegraph.

So, will he stay or will he go?

Lloyd hopes that Everton's fine form in 2017—only Liverpool and Spurs have beaten them in the league since the turn of the year—is enough to persuade the striker to stick around, at least for one more attempt at cracking the top four.

"If we can keep hold of him, it would a massive statement—not so much of ambition, because that is there and is supported by the huge salary Everton are reported to have offered him, but of Lukaku’s faith in Koeman's project and in Moshiri’s plans," he said.

"If we sell, it’s a huge setback in terms of losing a prolific striker, as consistent scorers are hard to come by these days. 

"But if he goes this summer, he will do so for a massive fee that will allow the club to reinvest in quality signings to enhance the side.

"Last summer, the plea from Everton fans to Lukaku was to stay just one more year and see how the new manager fared in place of Martinez. With the team so formidable at home and mounting a late challenge for the top six, the cry is the same—sign a new deal and give it one more year to see if we can crack the top four. If not, you can leave with our blessing."

It remains to be seen if the club has progressed fast enough to match their star turn's sky-high ambitions. Until he commits, expect a summer full of speculation.

However, there is little doubt Everton wouldn't be in such a healthy position right now without their talismanic top-scorer. For that alone Lukaku is deservedly in the running to be recognised by his peers as the best around in 2016/17.

 

Rob Lancaster is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All statistics used in the article are from TransferMarkt unless otherwise stated.