Epistle to St Lukaku
By Mike Awoyinfa
LET me follow the example of Paul, the Apostle to write you an epistle, my dear brother and son of Africa making waves on the soccer pitch of Europe, painting everywhere with goals. Lot of goals. So many that even those who rejected you and didn’t give you your deserved respect have to come back looking for you, paying a whopping 75 million pounds (£75m) to have you in their team.
Today, you are the rejected stone now become the cornerstone, my dear Romelu Menama Lukaku, you son of Congo, born in Antwerp and born into football by a father who is a footballer. Your story reminds me of the Scripture, Psalm 118 verse 22 which says: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”
From childhood, you had been dreaming to become a big football star. You chose as your idol, the great Chelsea legend, Didier Drogba, a man with whom you share an uncanny resemblance. Two of you look alike, like brothers, the same height, the same physicality, the ability to terrorise defenders and the knack for scoring goals.
For you, it was dream come true, when you suddenly found yourself in Chelsea, stepping into the great shoes of Drogba your hero. You wanted to continue where Drogba stopped, scoring for Chelsea and making a name for yourself on the global football stage. Unfortunately, the coach, Jose Mourinho didn’t think you had matured enough to become the next Drogba. The competition for the position of Chelsea’s main marksman was so tough. You had players like Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres, Demba Ba, all fighting for a shirt. Mourinho not having so much faith in young talents but preferring experienced hands decided either to field you occasionally or consign you to the reserve bench. Kevin de Bruyne suffered the same fate. Now he is a big star in Manchester City.
It was unlike Mourinho. The Mourinho who had so much faith and confidence in Drogba that even if he is not playing well, he will still leave him on the field, believing that somehow, he would work out a miracle. Drogba was his miracle worker. He didn’t have that much faith in you.
To acquire more experience and confidence, you were sent on exile to West Brom. You were sent on loan, I mean. And there in West Brom, you made your mark as a marksman, scoring goals freely. Such was the impact you made that Mourinho had no choice than to bring you back to Chelsea. Again, there were doubts about your ability and capability to be Chelsea’s No.1 goal poacher. If they brought you in at all, it was just for a cameo role. You hardly started a match and finished it in 90 minutes.
Your undoing was the decisive UEFA Super Cup Finals against Bayern Munich when the game had to be decided by penalty kicks after ending in 2-2. Oh, I remember that sad day in Prague when you were saddled with the responsibility of taking the last penalty kick. Earlier before you, David Luiz the Brazilian defender had scored, Oscar, the other Brazilian had also scored, followed by Lampard who scored, then Ashley Cole who also scored.
Bayern was leading by 5-4 and it was up to you to equalise with your penalty kick. I could see fear clouding your face as you got set to take the last penalty kick. The referee blew his whistle and you delivered a weak shot from your left leg which the Bayern ace goalkeeper read and parried away as he dived to his left corner. You folded your hands on your head in agony. This must have been one of your saddest moments. You had disappointed yourself. You had disappointed your team. Most importantly, you had let down your coach Jose Mourinho, who trusted you to score. Your world and your dreams had crashed right before you in front of the full house of the Prague Stadium and millions watching all over the world.
There and then you knew all will not be the same again in Chelsea. You knew Jose Mourinho will no longer have confidence in you. He was likely going to make you pay for the miss by consigning you to the bench where you will rot. You took your destiny in your own hands and decided to leave Chelsea. You approached Mourinho about wanting to leave. To be fair to Mourinho, he initially turned down your request.
But three days later, he gave the green light for you to join Everton.
And the rest is history.
You were sold for a record fee of 28 million pounds. At Everton, you played yourself into recognition by scoring goals and goals galore.
Soon you were crowned the goal king of Everton. The Guardian newspaper named you in 2014 as one of the ten most promising young players in Europe. You beat a record of goal scoring set by our own Yakubu Aiyegbeni in Everton. There were some poignant moments. I remember when you scored against your old team West Brom and you chose not to celebrate. I also remember an occasion when you scored a fantastic goal and you were quoted as saying: “I hope Mourinho is watching.”
It was an unnecessary statement.
So I think. Mourinho wasn’t happy with the statement. He fired back as he always does: “Why did he leave Chelsea? Ask him.” Meaning he didn’t ask you to leave. That you left on your volition. All the same, you went outside Chelsea to prove yourself by scoring and scoring. You let your legs and your head do the talking. And the world listened.
Today, you are one of the hottest properties in soccer. You are one player who can play in any team, be it Real Madrid or Bayern Munich or Barcelona. Even Chelsea was regretting allowing you to leave and praying they would buy you back.
Ironically, it was Jose Mourinho, your old nemesis who succeeded in convincing you to come into his fold after paying Everton 75 million pounds. Success indeed is the best revenge!
What are the lessons in all this? In whatever field you play in life, have self-belief, believe you are the best, don’t play second fiddle, work hard, hone your skills, be persistent, be hungry for success, never stand still in one place, refuse to let frustration weigh you down, don’t let any coach frustrate you. You may be in a difficult situation but stay positive.
Silence your critics with your goals.
Today, Lukaku is having the last laugh. He is today the beautiful bride of soccer. The stone that was rejected is now the cornerstone. I pray that he succeeds in his new assignment in Manchester United.
Last line: The real cornerstone however is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who was once rejected. May He be the cornerstone of your life—and my life too!