Romelu Lukaku might have enjoyed an explosive campaign in the Premier League with Everton, but his introduction to Euro 2016 with inauspicious to say the least.
The Toffees have slapped a €80 million tag on the powerful attacker, but his display against Italy seemed to highlight weaknesses in his game unbecoming of a player with such an incredible asking price.
“Given the number of goals I've scored in the last two seasons, it's a price...” he stops short. “I don't know if that's the true price, but it's what the media says!” Lukaku told GQ.
“I know, however, that I've scored a lot of goals in my young career. We'll see. It might be €80m, it might be less.”
For the kind of money Everton want, a buying team should demand a player of world-class ability. Lukaku had the opportunity to test his mettle against a rearguard of such standard in the form of Italy – who command arguably the best backline in the competition, despite questions hanging over their offensive capabilities to go deep into the tournament.
Bereft of Champions League football at Goodison Park and playing in a Premier League hardly at the height of a defensive golden age, this was his chance.
Faced up against Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli, the 23-year-old showed there is still scope for improvement.
He was given no space by the Italian defence, which policed him closely. Lukaku was forced to earn every inch but his movement was not smart enough to even once threaten the experienced trio during the first half. Instead, Belgium were restricted to hopeful efforts from range through Radja Nainggolan.
In the second he was offered one chance to score, but he lifted the ball wide of goal when clean through on Gianluigi Buffon. It was a watershed in the game that until that moment Belgium still had an opportunity to claim a point from.
But there were further questions raised over his capabilities, too.
When he did take the ball in to feet, his first touch was poor, making it difficult to link with his offensive colleagues. A lack of cohesion between the forwards was a major handicap to the Belgians throughout, and Lukaku’s inability to bring others into play was one of the central reasons they failed to make any inroads.
As the fixture against Italy showed, he is a player who needs space to operate to his optimum level. When opponents begin to pay him particular attention, or when his team-mates are not moving adequately to destabilise the opposing defence, he can be relatively simply nullified.
Coach Mark Wilmots certainly seemed unconvinced. “I have four good options up front. After I watch a replay of Ireland’s game against Sweden, I will decide the strikers that best fit the profile of what we need to win on Saturday,” he said, hinting at change for his side’s second match, against Ireland.
The Belgium boss hit out at his side’s lack of offensive pressing and he is not the first coach to take aim at the forward’s attitude. After he was offloaded to Everton by Jose Mourinho, the Portuguese said: “The thinking was first of all the fact that Romelu was always very clear with us that in his mentality and his approach he was not highly motivated to come to a competitive situation at Chelsea.”
Lukaku, though, remains a player with some merit. To score 18 goals in a Premier League season is no feat to be treated lightly, even if he managed only three in the second half of the campaign.
The 23-year-old is clear what calibre of club he is aiming to join.
“I'll go to a club that will give me the chance to be part of a great project. I'm only 23, I still have to improve,” he stated. “But I want to win titles, because that's what we remember at the end of a career.”
There are only a handful of clubs in Europe capable of filling such criteria, but his price is so high that suitors are liable to be put off. Lukaku is right, he is not the finished article – and for €80m a genuinely elite side will want just that.