Romelu Lukaku: Does the Belgium and Manchester United striker deserve more credit?

Romelu Lukaku continues to send records tumbling but does he get the recognition he deserves?

With his double against Tunisia on Saturday, Lukaku became the first player since Diego Maradona in 1986 to score two or more goals in consecutive World Cup games. The Belgian is now level with Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the scoring charts in Russia.

Lukaku’s recent goalscoring exploits place him in esteemed company, but his overall record is even more impressive. He only turned 25 last month but, with 40 goals in 71 appearances, he has already smashed Belgium’s all-time scoring record. At the same age, Ronaldo had only scored 22 in 69 games for Portugal. Lionel Messi had registered 26 in 70 for Argentina.

Romelu Lukaku vs Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi at the same age Player International apps Goals Romelu Lukaku 71 40 Lionel Messi 70 26 Cristiano Ronaldo 69 22

Ronaldo, of course, took his total to 85 with his goal against Morocco on Wednesday, breaking the European record previously held by Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas, but Lukaku’s recent efforts suggest it is only a matter of time until he catches him. Remarkably, he has now scored 17 goals in his last 11 international appearances.

Still, though, the focus tends to fall on his perceived limitations. Lukaku became the fifth-youngest player to reach 100 Premier League goals last season, behind only Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane, but his critics were quick to pounce when things went against him, questioning his suitability to a club of Manchester United’s stature.

Lukaku has not allowed the questions to affect him, though, following up his two-goal display against Panama with another clinical showing against Tunisia. The striker is sometimes accused of lacking finesse but there was impressive variety to his finishes. After drilling his first into the bottom corner, he delicately lifted his second over the advancing goalkeeper.

Lukaku could have had a third if not for a heavy touch when put through on goal midway through the first half, but he can hardly be accused of wastefulness. So far in Russia, he has scored with all four of his shots on target. He has only failed to test the opposition goalkeeper once.

His critics question other areas of his game, but his performance against Tunisia provided fresh evidence to suggest many people’s perceptions are wide of the mark. Lukaku linked the play effectively and created chances for his team-mates. Indeed, Eden Hazard should have scored from his perfectly-measured cutback in the 13th minute.

It was not an isolated event. In fact, since the start of the 2013/14 season, Lukaku has provided a total of 25 Premier League assists with Everton and Manchester United. It is more than any other out-and-out striker in the same period. Lukaku is a team player, in other words, with a level of technical skill far higher than he is often given credit for.

Lukaku has already made his mark on this World Cup but the question now is whether or not he can build on his fine start. He is a doubt for Thursday’s meeting with England having suffered what Martinez described as “external ligament damage” against Tunisia, but Belgium have already booked their place in the knockout stages so he is likely to get more opportunities.

England’s defenders will be relieved if they do not have to face him, but others might not be so lucky. Lukaku is scoring at a record-breaking rate and there is little evidence to suggest he is stopping any time soon. In time, the recognition he deserves will surely follow.

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