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Romelu Lukaku Can See The Future

Belgium's forward Romelu Lukaku scores past Finland's goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group B football match between Finland and Belgium at Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on June 21, 2021.
Photo by Maxim Shemetov/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

I wonder when exactly Romelu Lukaku knew he was going to score here:

Was it the moment he began his turn before the shot, after his deft first touch opened up a perfect shooting lane? Or was it before that, when Kevin De Bruyne followed Lukaku’s instructions by playing a pass into his feet as he’d requested with his finger, feeling the defender on his formidable back? Was it even earlier than that, from his first pointed instructions as he crossed the halfway line, twice instructing Eden Hazard where to go with the ball before doing the same for De Bruyne’s assist, drawing up by hand pretty much the entire sequence that started in Belgium’s first third and ended up in Finland’s net? From the way Lukaku plays, using his unmatchable physical superiority and his complete understanding of the possibilities on the pitch, it’s clear that he knows what’s going to happen before it happens. I’d just like to know how far that foresight stretches.

Lukaku’s vision of the future is more akin to science in action than the practice of any dark arts. He’s less a clairvoyant and more like Laplace’s demon. Through his famously intense study of the game and mastery of his own skills, he can collect every single piece of information as it exists on the pitch, assess how his own abilities can influence the situation, and thus see clearly how cause will lead to effect.

For many great players of the smaller, creative variety, the sense you get when watching them is that they are artists capable of being fully present in the moment and reacting to ever-changing circumstances a half-second before anyone else. Lukaku, in contrast, is a thinker, one who dominates by being proactive rather than reactive. This is probably a reflection of the fact that the little artist types can live in the world of space and imagination, whereas a player like Lukaku, who has a big body that takes a beat to get moving or change direction, and who is in constant contact with other big bodies looking to constrain him, lives on the grounded terrain of the physical realm. That doesn’t prevent the Belgian from creating moments of beauty and genius, but it does mean he has to do it in a different way. Whereas someone like Messi can get the ball in space and simply decide on the fly how to get where he wants, someone like Lukaku has to have a plan.

The feeling that all of Lukaku’s movements are indeed very planned, practiced, and foreseen is strengthened by how often the following clip goes around whenever he scores a particular kind of goal. In the video from 2017, ex-player-turned-commentator Jamie Carragher interviews Lukaku at Everton’s training ground. Carragher is looking to know why Lukaku is so great at scoring goals, and Lukaku breaks down just how much science goes into it. He has perfected where to stand, how to angle his body, how to determine the precise moment to shoot in a one-on-one with the keeper, and how, the moment a defender gets too close into the zone where his power and quickness reigns supreme, Lukaku already knows that he will score:

Finland’s Daniel O’Shaughnessy fell into that zone, and what happened was exactly what Lukaku said would happen back in 2017. Lukaku scored another goal against the Finns, eventually disallowed because VAR drew a line that ran through one of his toes, and it too featured some of the same body-positioning mastery he laid out in the Carragher interview:

Lukaku has worked his whole life preparing for the exact scenarios he’s using today to take Belgium into the knockout rounds of the Euros. He says he knew at six years old that he’d be a professional soccer player, his foresight then already that advanced. Which is why I’d like to know when he knew he was going to score that goal against Finland, and I’d like to know how far he sees Belgium getting in the tournament, too.

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