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Romelu Lukaku: Is The Price Right?

telegraph.co.uk

Everton’s steep valuation of Romelu Lukaku has many questioning whether he is worth record money.

What would you do with $130 million?

We all have our hypothetical wishlists, the ones we spend embarrassing amounts of time refining whenever lottery winners make the front page of the paper. Personally, after taking care of the typical stuff (college debt, house for mom and dad, savings, charity, etc.), I would splurge on a Caribbean vacation, some Yeezy’s (don’t judge), and whichever Ferrari is the easiest to drive (but still bright red and jaw-droppingly gorgeous).

Now, like most of you, I do not have $130m to throw around. Even if I did, I certainly could not justify defying the old adage and spending it all in one place. England’s Everton Football Club are hoping to persuade Europe’s wealthiest teams to do just that.

Everton’s star man, Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku, has informed the team that he would like to move to a bigger club, so now the Toffees are understandably trying to drum up interest in advance of the summer transfer window. Intriguingly, the early rumors surrounding a potential Lukaku move seem to indicate that Everton will be looking to receive a fee in the realm of £100 million, which comes out to around a robust $130 million.

This is a bold asking price, to say the least. Transfermarkt.com values the entire Everton first-team roster at roughly €252 million (about £212m), and they assign Lukaku himself a €50 million figure (or £42m). While Transfermarkt’s estimates may differ somewhat from what a big club will be willing to pay this summer, any £100 million sale of the striker would be a ludicrously profitable move for his club, and a landmark price tag for all future superstar moves.

Now, the question stands: is Lukaku really worth 100 million pounds? To answer this, we need to assess the player’s qualifications for what essentially amounts to ”franchise player” status, and to identify recent trends in the market to determine if a triple-digit-millions transfer for the striker makes sense in pro soccer’s bigger economic picture.

The Player

It is true: Lukaku has been among the most prolific players at his position in the Premier League over the past couple of seasons. In 2015-16, the Belgian striker scored 18 goals in 37 Premier League appearances (fourth-best in the league), while this season he currently leads all EPL players with 24 goals scored in 33 appearances (Everton still have four league games left to play, as of April 29). Suffice it to say, the man puts up big-time numbers.



Lukaku’s high goal totals definitely impress, but the context in which the striker has scored these goals, and the efficiency he has demonstrated, stand as perhaps better indicators of his value to a team. 

First of all, he plays for Everton, an upper-middle-tier Premier League side that finished 11th last season in a down year and have qualified for the Europa League in an impressive run this season, but almost never find themselves in the position to challenge for any major trophies. Unlike the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who each are supported by teams full of big-money players (Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, respectively), Lukaku has excelled at a club with a less-talented supporting cast, where he has been far and away the best player in recent years. 

For instance, the highest scorers on Everton after Lukaku are Seamus Coleman (right back), Kevin Mirallas (winger), and Ross Barkley (midfielder), who each have a mere four goals to their name; Lukaku’s 24 goals represent an eye-popping 40% of Everton’s 60-goal season total. For the sake of comparison, the Premier League’s next leading scorer, Harry Kane of Tottenham, has scored 20 goals this season, which makes up only ~29% of his team’s total (69).

In addition to carrying his team all year, Lukaku has also been remarkably efficient in his goal-scoring efforts. Of the top five Premier League scorers in 2016-17, Everton’s star man has the lowest shots-per-90-minutes average (2.97), but is tied for the highest number of shots-on-goal in the entire league (47). These numbers underscore the skillfully precise nature of Lukaku’s attacking style and make his performance for a non-top-four club all the more praiseworthy.

So, from an ability- and productivity-based perspective, Lukaku has been playing like the best striker in the Premier League. As the EPL is considered by many to be the toughest league in the world, there is also no reason to doubt that the striker’s success would translate over to any other league if he were to leave Everton. He’s also only 23 years old, with the prime years of his career ahead of him, and has yet to struggle with any major injury concerns. 

The bottom line: Lukaku is already playing at an elite level, and he likely has yet to hit his performance ceiling, a thought that should scare the rest of Europe.

The Market

Image title

Midfielder Paul Pogba is currently the most expensive player in the world — Getty

To put a potential £100m transfer in some perspective within the professional soccer transfer market, the highest fee ever paid for a player to date remains the £89 million that English giants Manchester United forked over to Italian side Juventus last summer for French midfielder Paul Pogba, who was 23 years old at the time. The next four most expensive players ever are, to date:

  • Gareth Bale (Welsh forward, £85m, Tottenham Hotspur —> Real Madrid)

  • Luis Suárez (Uruguayan striker, £65m, Liverpool —> FC Barcelona)

There are some trends worth noticing here. First of all, each of these players, with the exception of Pogba, is a purely attack-minded player, and the French midfielder still is considered less of a holding player and more of an orchestrator for the United offense. Goals lead to wins, which lead to trophies, which equal return on investment for club ownership, so the fact that attacking players are the ones whose transfers continue to push the record-fee number higher and higher should not surprise anyone. In this respect, Lukaku moving for a huge fee seems plausible.

Second, more money is being poured into professional soccer transfers than ever before. The BBC reported last September that Premier League clubs paid out over £1.1 billion on summer transfers in 2016, breaking the league’s previous record (set in 2015) by almost £300 million. With more cash coming into play each summer, Pogba’s £89m transfer fee record seems destined to be surpassed in the near future.

However, only a select handful of Europe’s most prestigious clubs have the funds to even consider agreeing to such an expensive transfer. Even then, many already have a world-class striker (or even two) on their roster. 

Realistically, Lukaku’s primary suitors would be his old club Chelsea, whose manager, Antonio Conte, has been on less than cordial terms this season with the club’s main striker, Diego Costa. Costa, a Spanish international, will also turn 29 in October, so bringing in a younger forward of equal or higher caliber (e.g. Lukaku) will likely be Chelsea’s top priority this summer. Their interest, combined with the continued surge in EPL summer transfer spending, could very well result in Lukaku switching clubs for a record-breaking fee.

The Takeaway

Some questions still have to be answered before any £100m Chelsea transfer for Lukaku can be considered a strong possibility. For one thing, Everton’s asking price may come down with time; in fact, some news outlets have placed the potential transfer fee in recent days closer to the £70 million mark. Chelsea’s handling of Diego Costa’s future will also factor in heavily to whatever decision they make about acquiring a new star to lead their forward line. 

Either way, Lukaku’s play this year has been strong enough to give a hypothetical £100m move some significant legitimacy. He has scored more goals than anyone in the Premier League, the world’s most difficult test of an attacker’s abilities, and he has done so at a more shot-efficient rate than any of his closest competitors. 

Do I think Chelsea, or any team for that matter, that matter, should pay out triple-digit-millions to secure his services? Probably not, as spending £100m on one player ties up a massive portion of any team’s transfer budget into just a single spot in their eleven-man starting lineup, leaving other areas of possible talent weakness or depth concern unresolved. 

However, since the amount of money spent on Premier League transfers looks set to continue rising past already-record levels, £100 million may be retroactively considered a fantastic price for a player of Lukaku’s caliber in just a few short years. I think that Lukaku will leave Everton this summer (probably for Chelsea), he will cost somewhere in the range of £70-90, and he will be worth every penny. 


Statistics as of April 29, 2017, courtesy of foxsports.com


Edited by Jazmyn Brown, David Kaptzan.

SQuiz
T/F: Romelu Lukaku has a brother who plays professional soccer for Lazio in Italy?
Created 4/30/17
  1. True
  2. False
  3. ---
  4. ---

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