Romelu Lukaku may yet start the new Premier League season as Wayne Rooney’s understudy at Chelsea but Jose Mourinho said tonight that the 20-year old Belgian striker is more than capable of challenging Fernando Torres for a place in the side.
Lukaku scored his second goal in two games for Chelsea in a 4-1 win over a Malaysia XI in Kuala Lumpur, the second game of Chelsea’s tour of Asia which concludes on Thursday night with a final game in Jakarta. The club’s view is that if they do manage to sign Rooney this summer it will be Torres or Demba Ba who are sold to accommodate the England international but that Lukaku’s place is safe.
Asked after the game whether Lukaku would be challenging Torres come the start of the Premier League season, Mourinho replied, “Of course”. He was reluctant to pick out similarities between his teenage striker and Didier Drogba, whom Lukaku has been compared to in the past.
Mourinho said: “We have to respect Didier because he is unique in Chelsea's history, and we have to respect Lukaku. The best way to do that is not compare him to a legend in Chelsea's history. Leave Didier where he is, at the top of Chelsea's history, and leave Lukaku to work hard. The kid is good.
“They [the team] are learning to play the way I want. Every manager has his own ideas. Lukaku had a fantastic manager last season but Steve [Clarke] is Steve, I am me, and West Brom is not Chelsea. It's up to the kid, but he's open and intelligent to learn the kind of movement we want. The role he played tonight was the right movement. We don't want the striker just aiming between the central defenders, but making movements, sometimes between the midfield or moving wide.”
There was a goal and an assist today for Bertrand Traore, the 17-year-old Burkino Faso international who is still not contracted to the club. Chelsea describe him officially as a “triallist” and say that he cannot sign a professional deal before his 18th birthday rather, than his 17th, as is the norm, because he is in the United Kingdom on a student visa.
It is expected that Traore will not receive a work permit from the Home Office and will, in all likelihood, have to go out on loan. Traore started on the right side of the attacking midfielders today and his good performance followed another impressive outing in Bangkok on Wednesday.
Mourinho said that Chelsea wanted to sign the player. “We'll have to wait until he becomes 18 to try to get the permit for him to stay in England. If it's not possible we have to let him go on loan somewhere, but we have the guarantee that he plays for his national team. For a 17-year-old boy, sooner or later, the committee has to give him a permit to play in England.
“If he goes on loan somewhere, he has to go, but if he's playing for his country at the same time – one of the most important countries in African football – he'll get his deserved permit. So no dramas with it. It's fantastic for him to come here and play well for Chelsea.”
There was another fine performance from Belgium international Kevin De Bruyne, who was substituted having injured himself in the act of scoring a well-taken volley on 36 minutes. The 22-year-old sustained an injury to his right knee that was initially thought to be serious but Mourinho said that they hoped he would have recovered by the end of the week.
Mourinho said: “When he was on the floor and asking for a change, everyone on the bench thought the worst. The first assessment by the doctor is that it’s not ligaments is and, if it's something in the meniscus, it has to be a very small injury. So we believe it's not an important injury. And hopefully it isn't because the kid is a fantastic player and showing to you match after match, and showing to me in training, that he's going to be a good player and a key man on the pitch. Hopefully nothing important and he will be ready for us.”