By Wayne Veysey
Romelu Lukaku could have been enhancing his reputation at West Brom for a second consecutive season had it not been for Chelsea rookie Isaiah Brown.
Goal has learned that relations between the two clubs, who meet at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, broke down after the Europa League champions plucked teen sensation Brown from the Hawthorns academy when his contract had expired in the summer.
West Brom chiefs went public with their anger at losing the former England Under-16s captain, who became the second youngest player in Premier League history in May when he made his debut for the Baggies aged 16 years and 117 days.
|9/1||Chelsea are 9/1 to beat West Brom 3-0 with BetVictor|
The Midlands club were powerless to prevent the move as Brown could not sign a professional contract until he turned 17, which is in January. However, director of football Richard Garlick threatened to take the matter to a tribunal after Chelsea made a compensation offer he described as “disappointing”, while West Brom assistant manager Kevin Keen added to the fall-out by describing the bid as “totally wrong”, “disgusting” and “back-pocket change” to a club of such wealth.
West Brom were one of the three principal clubs, along with Everton and Fulham, in the running to capture Lukaku after the Belgian and his colleague Demba Ba had been made available at the end of August by Jose Mourinho for season-long loans.
However, Chelsea responded to West Brom’s critical Brown stance by blocking the possibility of a return for Lukaku to the Hawthorns, where he scored 17 league goals during a highly productive loan spell last season.
Lukaku, whose agent Christophe Henrotay also represents Kevin Mirallas, eventually completed a 12-month loan to Everton in the final minutes of the summer transfer window.
Speaking in July, Garlick offered a measured response to losing Brown, who is regarded as one of the best in his age group in the country and was named the Albion academy’s player of the year shortly before leaving for his attacking midfield performances.
“We are disappointed by Chelsea’s offer,” said Garlick. “We have invested a lot of time and money in Isaiah’s development as a player and - as one of our most exciting academy products in recent years - we had hoped to bring him through into our first team.
"But Chelsea have forced our hands and we are more than prepared for the matter to be decided by a tribunal if needs be.
"It makes you question why these young players are joining bigger clubs when they are likely to gain more first-team opportunities in the Premier League at clubs similar to us."
Goal understands that Brown changed agents three months before the end of last season, which is regarded by West Brom as a key factor in his transfer to Chelsea.
The Baggies were entitled to negotiate a compensation fee, but, despite extensive negotiations, it is understood the fee for Brown has yet to be settled.
In another twist to the saga, Goal understands that Mourinho’s preference was for Lukaku to move to Fulham on loan.
The Portuguese, whose 13-year-old son Jose junior has been offered student terms by the Cottagers following a successful five-week trial with their academy, is believed to have contacted Fulham to give them first refusal on Lukaku.
However, Fulham had used up their budget with the signing of Darren Bent on a season-long loan from Aston Villa and could not afford the loan fee and salary payments needed to capture Lukaku as well.
Everton took advantage of the availability of Lukaku, who has begun at Goodison Park where he left off at the Hawthorns, scoring five league goals in six matches for his new temporary employers.