Romelu Lukaku: Chelsea’s Eric Cantona?

The impending arrival of Romelu Lukaku at Chelsea is exciting almost every Chelsea fan. On the face of it, he is the answer to our goalscoring problems. The missing piece in Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea jigsaw. On top of this, you add the sentimental aspect of the move. 10 years on from when he first signed (almost to the exact day), he’s returning to the club he’s supported since he was 10 years old. He once faltered in a Super Cup Final and now could make his second debut for the club in that very same competition. The narrative writes itself. Romelu Lukaku is a Blue again.

Rom-back: Lukaku is back where it all began. Credit | @DrawingsByAaron
Rom-back: Lukaku is back where it all began. Credit | @DrawingsByAaron

Cantona: The Leader, the Difference-maker

Outside the obvious on field and sentimental, narrative bonus, there’s another less obvious but equally important role Lukaku could have: think Eric Cantona, the class of 92, and Manchester United in 1995. 

What has this got to do with Chelsea now? Well, hear me out. 

In the summer of 1995 Man United were rebuilding. The likes of Mark Hughes (who joined Chelsea), Andrei Kanchelskis, Paul Ince, key players in United’s back to back title wins, had left the club. Eric Cantona, United’s key player in their title wins, was suspended for his dangerous kick of a spectator at Selhurst Park. 

Instead of buying, then manager Sir Alex Ferguson promoted the ‘Class of 92’ from their academy. This included the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, and Gary Neville as first team starters. They were all young, inexperienced players. They started poorly, relatively speaking, as Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle roared to a 12 point lead over United in the PL table. 

Experienced Campaigner: Eric Cantona’s leadership, experience and world class ability provided the right guidance for the Class of ’92. Credit | Goal

Then Cantona returned. World class. Experienced. Something to prove. A leader. 

Cantona galvanised the team, raised the standards of everyone around him, and inspired confidence and belief in the young players. His experience gave reassurance and leadership to the young team. Above all, he performed at a phenomenal standard, scoring goals, becoming United’s talisman as they overtook Newcastle to win the league. 

Cantona’s talismanic influence transformed that side, and his legacy was seen as those young players matured into winners and leaders in their own right after his departure. But all say now his influence was key in this development.

Romelu Lukaku: Leading from the Front

So what does this have to do with Lukaku and Chelsea? 

Well, we have a very young squad. Mason Mount, Reece James, Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ben Chilwell, Tino Anjorin, even Andreas Christensen and Timo Werner, are all 25 or under. Of course, we all know several of these, like the Class of 92, were promoted from our own academy – and there could be more to come.

Despite winning the Champions League, to be consistent and build a sustained title challenge, not just once but over several seasons, requires not just goals, but leadership. This team has lacked a talisman since Eden Hazard left, and even then, Hazard wasn’t a vocal, natural leader, a warrior in the way say Didier Drogba or Eric Cantona were. 

To me last season it was very clear we didn’t have this talisman. The world class player, leader, and inspiration who’d show up when you needed them and deliver a goal or moment of inspiration. The man who’d lift the team and take them to another level.

Romelu Lukaku can do this.

Lukaku is a leader. He’s a warrior, vocal on the pitch, is in his prime but is also experienced. He even has history of being a young player trying to break through at Chelsea, something which could be invaluable to some of the emerging academy talents. His character and his playing style is one which brings the best out of everyone around him. I have no doubt the likes of Mason Mount, Kai Havertz and others will learn, improve, and raise their game simply from training and playing with him.

The Man for Right Now

In many ways, Romelu Lukaku is a better signing than Erling Haaland. For all his world class quality, Haaland too is inexperienced, still developing as a player and a man, and has no PL experienced. 

Lukaku too is a world class player, but not only is he arguably a more complete player currently, in his prime, he also has more experience as a player, and is proven in the PL. He has the character to galvanise the squad and be a leader for this young team. His love of the club only adds to his impact, because he’ll feel the club the same way the academy guys (and the fans) do, he knows what it means to play for Chelsea, he knows the history, he knows what it means to be ‘Proper Chels’. 

In short, Lukaku can do for this team, what Cantona did for the Class of 92. 

There’s even a case for him becoming captain when Azpiculeta and Thiago Silva depart the club. He’s old enough that Mason Mount would still have plenty of time to accede to the captaincy, and do so as a slightly more experienced player. Lukaku is a fan of Mason and he’d be a great mentor as a leader, and indeed as a player. It wouldn’t be a surprise to Lukaku as captain and Mount as vice captain next year. 

Romelu Lukaku has the potential to be the talisman this young Chelsea side is looking for. In more ways than one, he could the final piece of the jigsaw which takes this Chelsea side from a top 3/4 side, to serious title contenders. 

I’d wager good money that by the time Lukaku is done at Chelsea, we’ll have won some Premier League titles and potentially another Champions League, and he’ll have been a key player – both on and off the pitch. 

Written by The Score (@TheScore01)

Edited by Dan Hill (@idanknow05)

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