x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Everton should get what they paid for in Romelu Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku arrives at Goodison Park for a club record signing only a year after the frugal David Moyes era, writes Richard Jolly.

Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku will play at Goodison Park this season after not being able to convince Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho of his worth. AFP PHOTO/GLYN KIRK
Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku will play at Goodison Park this season after not being able to convince Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho of his worth. AFP PHOTO/GLYN KIRK

Pity poor David Moyes. Whenever there is a sign his former clubs have taken a seismic stride forwards, thoughts turn to the beleaguered Moyes.

When Manchester United hire a tactically brilliant World Cup semi-finalist who has won league titles in Holland, Spain and Germany, Louis van Gaal is compared favourably with Moyes.

When Everton pay £28 million (Dh173.6m) for a striker, it is tempting to remember that Moyes, the parsimonious Scot, had an annual net outlay of just £800,000 in his final five years at Goodison Park. There were times in his final few seasons when Everton were so short of forwards that their attack was comprised of midfielders.

Read more: Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho says Lukaku ‘was not highly motivated’ to make it with club

Those were the days of the ageing, semi-fit duo of Louis Saha and Yakubu, the cut-price Greek teenager Apostolos Vellios and the borrowed Denis Stracqualursi, desperately trying to compensate for his lack of talent with perpetual running.

But the irony is that Moyes facilitated the change in Everton’s financial fortunes. Indirectly, he has helped them recruit Romelu Lukaku.

Everton have had more freedom since Manchester United, and Moyes, paid £27.5m for Marouane Fellaini last September.

It is not as simple as saying the sale of one Belgian funded the purchase of another – some of the proceeds went on James McCarthy – but it afforded an opportunity. The straitjacket was removed from Roberto Martinez’s shoulders.

First Lukaku arrived on loan. Then he joined permanently. In an era of undisclosed fees, Everton were happy to reveal his £28m cost.

It obliterated their former transfer record, the £15m they spent on the self-same Fellaini. As Martinez said: “This is a footballing statement of what we want to do.”

The Spaniard’s ever-present smile and innate charm can disguise his sense of ambition but this is a week when his aspirations have become apparent.

The horizons for the Merseysiders have been expanded. Moyes prospered by being aware of Everton’s limitations, both financial and footballing. Martinez aims higher.

He plays a more progressive style of play, targets a top-four finish and keeps their most coveted players.

He prevented Moyes from signing Leighton Baines last year; a second Scouser, Ross Barkley, has signed a new, four-year contract this week.

In Barkley and Lukaku, 20 and 21 respectively, Everton have shifted the focus of the side from the senior players who dominated in the Moyes era. They point to a more attacking future.

The reality is that no Everton footballer has ever mustered 20 Premier League goals in a season. Lukaku struck 15 times last year, 17 the previous campaign, when he was borrowed by West Bromwich Albion.

He is already the most potent centre-forward they have had in the modern era. Given his age, he has the potential to improve.

His pace is vital on the counter-attack, his predatory finishing crucial. His physical attributes equip him to play alone up front, which is vital as Martinez favours one-striker systems, and his tactical awareness is developing. He flourished as a right winger against Arsenal in April.

By signing him, Martinez has remedied an imbalance. Everton were the exceptions in the top seven last season in not owning a striker who had cost at least £10m.

Only they and Arsenal did not feature a forward they had paid at least £20m for. To put it bluntly, they were competing in a different league from their peers.

Goalscorers decide games and command the biggest fees. Everton have long faced an uphill battle simply to stand still.

Now, aided by the funds from Fellaini and the improved television rights deal, they have a chance to compete. As everyone else is spending, it will not make it any easier to break into the top four, but perhaps the days of making do can be consigned to the past.

As Martinez said, Lukaku was his top target; in contrast, the same could not be said for some of the men Moyes ended up recruiting for lesser prices.

The phrases the Spaniard used – “his target is to become a world-class player ... we are desperate for him to become a special player for us” – indicate the vast difference between Lukaku and some of his predecessors in the Everton ­attack.

Optimism can be expensive, but Everton are altogether more buoyant than they were under the grim realist Moyes.

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