Roger Lukaku, in the name of the son.
Romelu Lukaku probably wouldn't have made it as a professional if it weren’t for his father, Roger. A former player himself, both an advisor and mentor to his son, the proud dad can today bask in the heights reached. And vibrate by proxy.
World Cup 2014. With seemingly no one decided to come out on top, Belgium and the United States play a hopelessly boring extra time. Kevin De Bruyne scores the first goal at the 92nd minute, before passing to Romelu Lukaku who doubles down at the 105th. Belgium books its place in the quarter final of the world’s most prestigious competition. Relieved and often criticised, Romelu shouts three words to the world’s cameras: ‘I love you dad.’ In front of his TV set, Roger Menama Lukaku is taken aback. ‘It was a very moving moment, he told Nieuwsblad. I didn’t know he was going to dedicate his goal to me. I got goosebumps, I cried.’ Suffering from a back injury, Roger couldn’t make it to Brazil, but nonetheless quivered with emotion: ‘I’ve had plenty of experiences in football, including in my own career. But this? In a World Cup? I can’t describe it.’
Leading by example
If he normally dedicates his goals to his mother, Adolphine, whom he visits every fortnight in Belgium, Romelu owes a lot to Roger. For starters, Ro-me-lu is the peculiar contraction of the first syllables of his father’s names. Furthermore, his dad’s gene pool granted him his extraordinary physique, the kind that can ‘break strollers’ Finally, and perhaps most importantly, his father boundless love for the sport was passed on. Born in Zaire in 1967, Roger Lukaku started his professional career somewhat late, in Belgian second division, at the age of 23, for the Rupel Boom FC. His journey from there, honourable if monotonous, would lead him from the RFC Seraing, where he would play with the Brazilian Wamberto, to the KV Ostende through the Germinal Ekeren and the FC Malines. His heights would be two spots in Belgian first division and a European qualification, embellished by a long run in the national team, including two runs in the Africa Cup of Nations (1994 and 1996).
Leading the way
Nothing to go mad about, nonetheless football quickly makes it way in Romelu’s head, with his parents’ blessing, aware of his potential to make it among the pros. He’s 13 when his parents are getting divorced, and he’s already being eyed by the greatest European clubs, his wildest dream Chelsea in particular. But he doesn’t lose his head. Behind the bright kid taking his marks at Anderlecht, Roger, used to the fleeting moods of professional football, keeps a watchful eye. Nobody will stand in the way of his son’s hike towards the heights he couldn’t reach himself. ‘Lukaku has smart parents, acknowledged José Mourinho, then Real Madrid’s trainer, and on the losing side of a possible transfer. His father said he had to stay in Anderlecht to finish his studies. Incredible! Where does one still find such parents? Too many youths and their parents only think about money. There should be more parents like Romelu’s.’
Dreaming by proxy
If Romelu, as well as his brother Jordan, playing today for Lazio Rome, made it as professional players, it is mostly because Roger knew to remain firm in his guidance and education. ‘You’ll never see me in a nightclub popping champagne, Romelu explained. Even the word “nightclub” had something of a diabolical ring to it when I grew up. I remember after winning a championship at Anderlecht I asked my father if I could go to a club, but he refused because I had school the next day.’ The work paid off, and today the Lukaku family can relish their victory, especially Roger through his role as a mentor and guide to his two grown sons. When he’s not shivering in front of the games, he comments with a certain finesse the news surrounding his sons in the Belgian media. His latest prediction regarding Romelu? We have to go back to 2016, right before the Euros: ‘Right now, I think the clubs that’d suit him most are the Bayern Munich or Manchester United.’ A year later, Romelu Lukaku shines at Old Trafford. In the name of the father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amenama.