Some have called him out for poor sportsmanship while others have been more sympathetic given how things unfolded for the Belgian.
After winning an early penalty to open the scoring from the spot, Lukaku missed a glorious one-on-one chance in the second half with the scores level at 2-2.
To make matters worse, he had the misfortune of prodding Diego Carlos’ overhead kick into his own net to hand Sevilla victory. No wonder he was distraught in the pulsating encounter’s aftermath.
However, there’s more to Lukaku’s misery than the misfortunes that befell him in this final.
Having joined Inter from Manchester United for a huge transfer fee in the summer, the pressure was on him to deliver and he responded with a scintillating first campaign at the San Siro.
Lukaku has led the line for Antonio Conte’s side admirably, emulating Ronaldo’s debut season tally of 34 goals in all competitions back in the 1997/98 season.
But from the heights of an outstandingly prolific season which also saw him score in every Europa game this season, and from drawing comparisons to ‘Fenomeno’ who also happens to be his idol, his part in Sevilla’s winner plunged him into despair.
It’s particularly unfortunate that the moment gave Twitter trolls plenty of ammunition against a player whose often inconsistent first touch has always been used as a stick to beat him with.
But what must haunt Lukaku most is that the events of this final sees him remain on the cusp of the truly elite strikers in world football.
The Belgium international is a proven goalscorer and at 27 years of age, this was supposed to be his time. Once dreams of a Serie A title slipped away, the Europa League maintained hope for silverware, reward for all those goals plundered.
As it turns out, Lukaku endured another rendition of a familiar story. Plenty of goals, none of the glory.
🔥 34 goals in all competitions in debut season for Inter
🔝 Scored in 11 successive UEL games – a competition record
🥈 Second in UEL scoring charts this season with 7 goals
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) August 21, 2020
Despite being a consistent and revered finisher throughout his career, his only trophy remains the Belgian league title he won with Anderlecht as a teenager.
And in a cruel twist of fate, it was the opposition’s striker who stole the limelight in Koln. Luuk de Jong’s two headed goals saw him play hero for Sevilla again after bagging the winner off the bench in the semi-finals against United.
Unlike Lukaku though, the 29-year-old has hardly been a goal machine this season. His tally stands at just 10 in all competitions from 46 appearances this campaign.
However, he does have a penchant for scoring important goals in big games. Apart from his heroics in the Europa League final and semi-final, he also scored a crucial winner in the derby at Real Betis to go with big away goals against Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.
Luuk de Jong’s 2019/20 for Sevilla:
Two goals in Europa League final
Winner in Europa League semi
Winner in derby at Betis
Opener at Atletico
Equaliser at Bernabeu
Otherwise: 4 goals in 41 games
What a bizarrely contrarian season.
— Andy West (@andywest01) August 22, 2020
Lukaku on the other hand has had a reputation for being a flat-track bully but he’s worked on shedding that label in recent times. He’s no longer ‘anonymous’ in the big games but clutch moments still seem to elude him.
He plays and performs like an elite striker. He talks the talk and walks the walk. Yet, there’s an unquantifiable element that’s still lacking and keeps him from the greatness he’s always seemed destined for.
Take Didier Drogba for instance, a larger-than-life legend of Chelsea and the Premier League. He scored 124 goals in 299 appearances in Europe’s top five leagues. Lukaku already has 136 in 253 but wouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath.
Consistency, statistics and records are all the makings of excellent players. But the greats are born out of defining moments, Lukaku’s continue to pass him by.
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