As Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku gears up to play his second World Cup, the Manchester United forward has shared his story of childhood struggle in a tell-all piece on the Players’ Tribune.
With little brother Jordan also in the Red Devils side earmarked as contenders, the former Chelsea man spoke about his family’s struggles with poverty while he was growing up.
His father, Roger Lukaku was a footballer himself and played for Belgian club sides KV Mechelen, Oostende and Germinal Ekeren and also turned out for Zaire in international matches but retired from professional football at the age of 32 in 1999, with his eldest son Romelu only six years of age.
Therein started a life of penury for the future Beligan international striker, “I’d want to take a bath, and there would be no hot water. My mum would heat up a kettle on the stove, and I’d stand in the shower splashing the warm water on top of my head with a cup.
“There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday,” Lukaku wrote.
The then-six-year-old promised his father and his family that he would turn professional by 16, the minimum age to do so and get rid of their financial troubles.
The striker of Congolese descent wrote about his hunger to succeed in spite of all the odds, “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.”
Lukaku played for the youth club of Lierse, scoring 76 goals in 34 games at the age of 12. The Lukakus did not have cable at home and thus Romelu was deprived of the 2002 World Cup action, and often had to watch the games at his friends’ houses. While everyone at school would come and discuss the Champions League, the Anderlecht youth product would pretend to have seen it and play along.
When he was 16, he wasn’t starting for the Belgian side’s Under-19 team until he confronted the coach. “I’ll guarantee you something. If you actually play me, I’m going to score 25 goals by December,” he told the youth team coach.
They made a bet that if Romelu didn’t score the requisite amount of goals, he would go back to the bench and if he did, the coach would clean the players’ minivans and make pancakes. Sure enough, the future Premier League star managed to bag 25 by November and the coach kept up his side of the bargain.
In 2009, with Anderlecht and Standard Liege tied on points, a two-legged playoff was held to decide the winner and Lukaku was summoned to the first team. As he signed his first pro contract, he was subbed on in the 63rd minute.
He had done it, signed his first money deal at the age of 16 years and 11 days, “I told my mum that I would make it at 16.
I was late by 11 days.”