LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21: Romelu Lukaku of Chelsea and Chris Baird of Fulham battle for the ball during the Carling Cup Third Round match between Chelsea and Fulham at Stamford Bridge on September 21, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
The Sun are currently reporting that Fulham have picked up Romelu Lukaku on a season-long loan deal in what might be the least convincing article ever published -- 22 words for a fairly major, apparently exclusive story ain't going to cut it without quotes, boys. Anyway, let's assume that the Sun claiming something is done make it at least a semi-believable rumour. Does a spell at Craven Cottage make sense for Lukaku?
I believe, in general, that a loan for the teenager is a good idea. There are two main qualifiers to that:
- The league must be at a sufficient level to force Lukaku's continued development.
- There must be a reasonable expectation that Lukaku would get significantly more playing time at the loan club than he would at Chelsea.
How do Fulham fit?
Obviously, test number one is passed with flying colours. The Premier League is probably the most challenging in Europe, week in and week out, and having him stay in England means no potential adjustment period later. It's test two that's more interesting. What's the situation at Fulham right now?
Last year, Fulham fielded the following players who could be classed as 'natural' centre forwards: Pavel Pogrebnyak, Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson and Orlando Sa. All four have left. They have the option of playing Bryan Ruiz or even Clint Dempsey up top, but neither is an entirely sensible fit. Coming in to replace the four departed strikers is Hugo Rodallega, who spent last season being pretty bad for Wigan Athletic. Update: I forgot about Mladen Petric, brought in from Hamburg! I don't think he's good, but you might think he's good. Opinions are great!
Given the competition, I wouldn't think that Lukaku would have much trouble becoming a regular for Martin Jol's side. I could certainly see him failing at Fulham, but that would be a function of him not playing as well as he could rather than being outclassed by pre-established players. It would also provide the Cottagers with a cheap option to either increase their non-existent depth at the position or to start, depending on how good you think Lukaku is now (I'm leaning towards 'better than Rodallega', but your mileage may vary).
So a loan deal would seem to make sense for both clubs and the player. Reasonable enough. If it does happen, though, Chelsea will need to make a move for a guy capable of backing up Fernando Torres -- or supplanting him in the Stamford Bridge pecking order.