Romelu Lukaku has written a moving account in the Player’s Tribune detailing how he rose to become Belgian’s greatest ever goalscorer through a determination to create a better life for his family.
The 24-year-old, who is of Congolese descent, made his debut for Anderlecht at the age of 16 and has since scored 100 Premier League goals, become Belgium’s all time top goalscorer, and cemented his place as Manchester United’s No.9.
That dream was always going to be realised: back aged just six, Lukaku resolved to bring his family out of poverty through football.
And in a truly moving piece which demands to be read in full, he explains how he treated every game as a youngster like a final and fulfilled the wish of his granddad to take care of his mother.
“I kept my promise to myself for a while,” he said. “But then some days I’d come home from school and find my mum crying. So I finally told her one day, “Mum, it’s gonna change. You’ll see. I’m going to play football for Anderlecht, and it’s going to happen soon. We’ll be good. You won’t have to worry anymore.”
“Let me tell you something — every game I ever played was a Final. When I played in the park, it was a Final. When I played during break in kindergarten, it was a Final. I’m dead-ass serious.
“I used to try to tear the cover off the ball every time I shot it. Full power. We weren’t hitting R1, bro. No finesse shot. I didn’t have the new FIFA. I didn’t have a Playstation. I wasn’t playing around. I was trying to kill you.
“I wanted to be the best footballer in Belgian history. That was my goal. Not good. Not great. The best. I played with so much anger, because of a lot of things … because the rats running around in our apartment … because I couldn’t watch the Champions League … because of how the other parents used to look at me.
“I was on a mission. When I was 12, I scored 76 goals in 34 games.
“Now I’m about to play in another World Cup, and my brother is playing with me this time. Two kids from the same house, the same situation, who made it out. You know what? I’m going to remember to have fun this time. Life is too short for the stress and the drama. People can say whatever they want about our team, and about me.”
Lukaku has never been about finesse. Lukaku is a player who deals in iron-clad blows rather than guided strokes, storming and rampaging and bludgeoning his way to success, to something better.
Reading this piece, you can see why. The Belgian never received a lucky handout at a young age; he was never a profiteer of nepotism; he begun life from the lower rungs of society and worked his way up, one goal at a time.
That drive, that anger, is fundamental to Lukaku the player and Lukaku the person. Football has been a conduit through which the striker has moulded himself into Jose Mourinho‘s sergeant on the pitch. And it has, more importantly, allowed him to fulfil the promise he made to his grandfather all those years ago.