If there’s one item this Valentine’s Day that should be struck off the list of desirables in households draped in Everton blue, it is Belgian chocolate.
The tribe of Toffeemen are having a sticky time of it as it is, marooned in 12th place in the Barclays Premier League and out of both domestic competitions, but after Kevin Mirallas’ admittance that he wishes to seek a new challenge should the Blues essentially fail to win the Europa League, Romelu Lukaku has joined his compatriot in a clear show of indiscretion.
“It was brilliant to play at Chelsea and I had a good reception,” Lukaku told The Sun after Everton’s 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
“They know I’m a good player but that I want to develop so I can eventually get back to playing for a club like Chelsea.
“I don’t have a secret ambition to rejoin — there are other clubs in the world. I just want to grow as a player and eventually arrive at a top club again.”
Granted, these words are open to interpretation: to some, they are merely perceived as the media causing unnecessary mischief in search of the next club to fall off the crisis carousel. But most Evertonians waking up this morning will have recoiled at the comments.
Of bigger concern, following the Mirallas confession, is what impact the club-record signing’s naivety will have on the other players. How will the likes of John Stones, Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Ross Barkley receive these quotes?
And what of the younger generation of supporters? We all had our idols growing up, and a romance has always endured between Everton fans and the archetypal No9 centre forward: Young, Dean, Lawton, Hickson, Royle, Latchford, Sharp, Lineker, Cottee, Ferguson, Campbell. The list goes on. At 21, Lukaku may be young in age, but he arrived in England four years ago having finished top goalscorer in the Belgian Pro League with Anderlecht at just 17.
His desire to ‘arrive at a top club’ shows the strain of an indifferent personal campaign has done little to offset his self-confidence, while that of those around him appear shot. One goal conceded in four games is testament to a defensive solidity rediscovered with the return of Stones, but the swash-buckling attacking verve of last season has been lost at its expense, with Lukaku’s solitary strike in that time making Everton as a spectacle more akin to sitting through triple Science than tenants of the School of Science.
It is a far cry from that humid summer’s day when the media sat patiently waiting the unveiling of Lukaku at Finch Farm.
Evertonians allowed themselves to be carried along in a wave of optimism that afternoon, marvelling at statistics- the knee-jerk reaction of the modern age. Only Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney scored more Premier League goals that Lukaku’s 32 before his 21st birthday, so we were sold.
Anyone who was present at the first appearance of the striker’s loan spell last season at Upton Park, where his cameo helped turn a certain defeat into an unlikely 3-2 win, would vouch for his lack of progress under manager Roberto Martinez since.
Coming at the start of a week that will define whether Martinez has conclusively been dealt a dose of second-season syndrome, with the first leg of the Europa League round-of-32 tie against Young Boys in Berne next Thursday, the Spaniard could do without such comments from his main striker.
Unless Lukaku replicates the Herculean effort of that day, and fleetingly since, those ‘crowd members’ who fill Goodison Park fuelled with copious liquor and venomous daggers of discouragement will not have forgiven nor forgotten his words amid the swirl of negativity generated by only three home league wins this season when Leicester City are the visitors on February 22.
Lukaku was seen as the poster-boy of the club’s continued march away from mediocrity, but despite his not-unimpressive return of 10 goals from 36 appearances this term, his overall play has made him more like the figurehead of struggle, with the club’s lofty pipe dreams weighing down firmly on his broad shoulders.
The Belgian’s revelation only serve to paraphrase the ambition held by his employers for the best part of the last two decades, arguably ever since the club last tasted silverware in 1995, but more realistically since David Moyes first achieved back-to-back top half finishes in 2008, after the euphoria of the 2004/05 season had been viewed in its full context.
While Lukaku should heed the advice of knuckling down and scoring goals, Everton fans would do well to put a positive spin on the episode.
Being viewed as an elite player is something that no footballer worth their salt wouldn’t crave; it would be abnormal for a £28 million striker to be at a club meandering in mid-table and not be frustrated. The very reason he signed for the Toffees was on the premise that the club would be competing for a place in the Champions League and for end-of-season honours.
What is so refreshing about the meteoric rise of Harry Kane is the manner in which he seems so grounded off the field. Both his demeanour and performances have been rewarded with a handsome new contract, and both in attitude and his slicked-back appearance, the English striker bristles with confidence like a welcome relic of bygone years.
His popularity is only enhanced in light of the shithousery dished out on a regular basis by his peers of the same age who have too readily believed their own hype. Saido Berahino, Raheem Sterling and Lukaku can all boast valid arguments for being technically more gifted than the media’s new darling, but all have been guilty of neglecting the unwritten rule of the profession: it is almost never a good idea to antagonise your own supporters.
All the above cases have, of course, their slight nuances that make them unique; it is widely believed that the clearly talented Sterling is being advised to hold out for more than the £95,000-a-week deal currently on the table. Berahino has spent time in the naughty chair of Tony Pulis, the West Brom manager, and judging by his reaction to scoring in the 2-0 victory over Swansea in mid-week, his wings have been suitably clipped to allow for a far more conducive attitude to take shape.
Less preoccupied with appeasing supporters waiting to see a sizeable return on the price shelled out on him than the number of zeroes on his weekly pay cheque, Lukaku would do well to swot up on his club’s proud history of nine league titles – more than double that of Chelsea – before meeting with the media again.