Steve Clarke accepts Romelu Lukaku will be returning to Chelsea next season.
The Belgium international joined the Blues in the summer of 2011, when they paid a reported fee of around £17million for the teenager. Having had few opportunities to impress during his debut season in England, the former Anderlecht star has spent this campaign on loan at West Bromwich Albion, where he has been able to showcase his quality.
Lukaku has made 26 appearances in the Premier League for the Baggies, half of which have come from a starting position, and he has 13 goals to his name. This is in stark contrast to last term at StamfordBridge, when he failed to find the back of the net in eight matches, of which only one came as a starter and even that was on the final day of the campaign.
The 19-year-old has expressed a desire to remain at the Hawthorns for a second season, not unreasonably suggesting this is a better option than returning to his parent club and sitting on the bench for nine months. However, as much as Clarke would love to extend the stay of the 6ft 3in frontman, he accepts his chances of doing so are zero.
“He is a Chelsea player,” said the Scot, who assisted Jose Mourinho when the Londoners won the title in 2004 and 2005. “He belongs to Chelsea and he will return there in the summer. I have never thought it would be possible Chelsea would let him come back next season. He came on a season-long loan and we’re grateful we’ve got him.”
Lukaku’s form for Albion has been a source of some embarrassment to Chelsea, who face a battle to finish in the top four this season. Whereas the Belgian has bagged 13 goals, the leading goalscorers for the Blues are two midfield players, in Frank Lampard (11) and Juan Mata (10). Of their strikers, all of whom were adjudged to be higher in the pecking order than Lukaku, Fernando Torres has seven, and Demba Ba, who arrived in January, has two.
Were Lukaku to walk into Rafael Benitez’s squad tomorrow he would likely be given a chance to prove he is worthy of a start for one of the Premier League’s elite. Such a chance may not be offered next season when he does return, though, with Roman Abramovich expected to spend heavily to reshape his attacking options.
Radamel Falcao, the Colombian international, has been linked with a £40million move from Atletico Madrid, whilst Napoli’s Uruguayan ace Edinson Cavani is also thought to be a target.