By Wayne Veysey in La Manga, Spain
After Chelsea agreed a fee with Anderlecht for Romelu Lukaku, the 18-year-old prodigy who has attracted interest from Europe's elite clubs gave his first extended interview with a British journalist back in January.
The forward explains his upbringing, how he stormed Belgium from an early age and his potential progress under Didier Drogba's wing at Stamford Bridge.
Goal.com UK: When did you start playing football seriously?
Romelu Lukaku: I started playing at six. I was at a school always playing football with my friends. But I was always bored at home. I asked my father if he could start me in a football team. He took me to a team called Rupel Boom, who were playing in the fourth division in Belgium, and I stayed there for four years. We had to move and I went to an amateur team called Wintam. When I didn’t train with Wintam, I trained with Lierse because I wanted to train every day.
What position did you play in?
I was always a striker ever since I was a little boy. I always wanted to put the ball in the net and have the feeling of scoring a goal.
Who was your football hero when you were growing up?
My father played for Congo (formerly the Zaire national team) and he was my hero when I was still a boy. I looked up to Cristiano Ronaldo and then it was always Didier Drogba. As I understand more and more about football I see the qualities I have and I can see myself in him. I have almost the same qualities and I want to follow in his footsteps.
Why did you move to Anderlecht?
I moved at 13 because it was the biggest team in Belgium and the team was very good. The youth team was also very good and I could train more. Instead of four times a week, I could train six times a week. I could also play with the older age groups. Ever since I was 10, I always played with guys who were one or two years older. I was playing regularly with the reserves at 15 and might have played for the first team but in Belgium you cannot play professional football until you have signed a professional contract at 16.
"I want to prove to people that I have intellectual qualities - not just football ability"
What is the most number of goals you have ever scored in a season?
Seventy-six goals in 34 games when I was 12 years old. I remember how many [competitive] goals I have scored every season. When I was 11, I scored 54 in 34 games. When I was 13, 59 in 34 games. When I was 14, 34 goals in 25 games although I had a hip injury and missed the last three months of the season. When I was 15, I scored 25 in 17 games for the Under-19s and 13 in 17 for the reserves. For the first team, I scored 15 goals in 30 [league] games when I was 16 and this season, now I am 17, I have scored 10 in 20 [league] games.
What kind of upbringing did you have?
Very strict. My father told me, ‘You must always have a goal and do everything to reach it’. Ever since I was six or seven, I wanted to be a professional footballer. When you see your father playing in the first division and you see players like Ronaldo with the crowd singing their names, you want that. Now I can fulfil my dream and I’m very happy with it. I’m a professional footballer and a student who does normal things as well.
How do you combine your studies with full-time professional football?
I go to school three or four days a week. The rest I do at home. I’m doing a two-year High School diploma in tourism and public relations and hope to graduate in the summer. I want to prove to other people that I have something in my mind and intellectual qualities, not just the ability to play football. In football anything can happen. You can have an injury and then you won’t play at the highest level any more. If you don’t have a diploma, what then?
You seem extraordinarily powerful for someone of your age. Do you lift a lot of weights?
I never lift weights. My physique? It is a gift from God. Or, as you say in France, it is in the water. When I was 14, I went one time a week to the gym but I didn’t know what I was doing then. Now, I only ever do stabilisation exercises for the back, abdominals and legs. Nothing else.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
My father, Roger, and my personal assistant Peter Smeets. Peter works for the club and before that we worked individually. He helps me organise my school work in with my schedule. I can always call him and say what is on my mind. He can help me with making choices.
It has been reported that you have spoken to Drogba and he has advised you to join Chelsea. Is this correct?
I spoke to Drogba the day after my 17th birthday. I was with Vincent Kompany and the Belgium national team. He was speaking to Drogba and gave me the telephone. It was a very emotional moment. I asked him a thousand questions; ‘How did you score that goal?’ ‘What did you do in training?’ ‘What is it like to play at Stamford Bridge?’ We spoke for about 20 minutes, half-an-hour. These opportunities don’t come along very often in a lifetime and you have to make the most of these moments.
What do you believe the future holds?
It is in the hands of my father, agent and Anderlecht. I focus myself on training and games. I don’t think I have to focus on anything else. If I do, I cannot concentrate properly.
You have been photographed in a Chelsea shirt and been given a tour of Stamford Bridge during a school trip. Do you want to play for Chelsea?
It is my favourite team. I have always said it and I have never hidden it. But it is not because Chelsea is my favourite team that I have to go there. There is also Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City. These big five are very interesting. Tottenham are also a good club. As a young kid you dream of playing in every big team. It is not because Chelsea is my favourite team that I have to specifically go there.
Where do you think you will move to when you leave Anderlecht?
I will see. It is something for my father and agent. There are so many clubs and big teams. For a young player sometimes you have to relax for a while and focus on your own team. I’m very happy with the situation at Anderlecht. I have the support of the club and other players. It is my environment and I’ve grown up here. It is best to focus on my goals.
Do you think your style of play is best suited to the Premier League?
Yes. If I see the games and some action in the Premier League, with my qualities I think I can play there. I’m very fast, I’m very strong and I work a lot. If I train with players with more quality I can be better than I am here. I want to improve. As a young kid you have to improve every single day. You have to work, you have to be ready. You have to take care of yourself and not get injured. You have to train a lot and get better, not by resting and watching the other players play.
Jose Mourinho says he has spoken to your father. Would you like to play for him at Real Madrid?
My father never talks to me about rumours. Of course, I admire Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid is a great club. But I see England as more likely than Spain.
How does it feel to be coveted by so many big clubs?
A few years ago it was a similar situation. There were a few other clubs interested in me after my first year at Anderlecht. Chelsea and Arsenal tried to sign me when I was 13, 14. If you play well clubs will always follow you. You know that but you don’t let it affect your mind. If you know scouts are watching every move you make and you are stressed when the ball comes to you, that is something you don’t want. You don’t want to read rumours or hear them. I train and play my game for my team. That is the only way the scouts will see you.
"I don't want to be recognised as Romelu the romantic - I am not like that"
What does it feel like to be the subject of so much media attention?
If I compare my situation over the last year with this year it becomes bigger and bigger. My father and my personal assistant, they help me a lot through this. They say, ‘You are Romelu Lukaku and you are wanted by the biggest teams in Europe. You have a great contract and everything you want’. They help me to keep both feet on the ground. At the beginning of the season, I didn’t score for eight games. People were saying, ‘You are not the Romelu of last season’. In football you have ups and downs. You cannot control everything.
Even at such a tender age you are already one of the most famous and recognisable sporting figures in Belgium. Are you fighting off the ladies?
Yes (laughing). But you must keep your private life separate. I don’t have a girlfriend at the moment but I talked about it one time and then I saw a big newspaper article with my ex-girlfriend talking about our relationship. I don’t want to be recognised as Romelu the romantic. I’m not like that.
What are your ambitions in football?
To reach the highest level and win prizes. I want to win the Champions League, the Europa League also. I want to play in the Premier League and win some [league] titles or the Spanish league and win those titles. That is also a dream. Why not?
What improvements can you make specifically to your own game?
I am left-footed and I need to improve my right foot and my heading and when I protect the ball with my back to the goal. I can improve everything. I’m 17, only a kid.
Do you still live at home?
Yes. I cannot live away from my parents. If I leave Belgium, my parents will come with me although if my brother stays, then my mother will probably remain. My brother Jordan is 16 and plays on the left wing or left-back for Anderlecht reserves.
I have been told you are multi-lingual. How many languages do you speak?
I speak English, Dutch, French and Congolese. And I am learning Spanish as part of my High School diploma.