With Chelsea hanging on to a slender lead against 10-man Norwich in 2011, up went the board. New boss Andre Villas-Boas made one final throw of the dice as he opted to switch out the experienced Fernandes Torres for an 18-year-old forward who had just signed from Anderlecht.
Romelu Lukaku was the name – the towering Belgian with medium length braided hair. He stood on the touchline and received some final instructions from the Portuguese boss before embracing a player who had been one of the league’s most fearsome strikers in recent years, and on he charged to the field of play.
The Blues were 2-1 up against the Canaries, thanks to Jose Bosingwa’s stunning long-range opener before Grant Holt had pegged them back thanks to Hilario’s blunder. The tide turned when Frank Lampard slotted home a penalty after John Ruddy was sent off for hauling down Ramires, but the home side were still making hard work of finishing the job.
Romelu Lukaku’s first Stamford Bridge debut against Norwich City wasn’t one to remember as he came on as a sub late, with manager Andre Villas-Boas giving him instructions (above)
The Belgian, a teenager at the time, showed glimpses of his ability but had limited time
Lukaku received a rousing reception from the Chelsea fans as he made his entrance – they had heard all the comparisons with club legend Didier Drogba and sensed another star was about to be born. They were right, this just wasn’t his time.
Having come on in the 83rd minute, the teenager was tasked with just seven minutes to make an impression and did all he could – getting plenty of touches from team-mates who were looking to get him involved.
He gave fans a hint of his strength, power and hold up play which he has now become renowned for as he tried to bully the Norwich defenders while charging down the channels and bringing others into the game.
The stoppage time board had indicated a whopping 11 minutes added on – more than enough time to snatch a late dream debut goal. A couple of half-chances came his way – a header that he skewed wide of the post and a deflected shot that Lampard nearly gobbled up at the rebound.
He had a few sniffs of goal as he was introduced to speed and physicality of English football
This would go down as a dream debut – just not for Lukaku. Another player was making his Stamford Bridge introduction – the Spanish midfielder Juan Mata, signed for £23.5million from Valencia.
He had been thrown into the mix earlier on in the 65th minute, coming on for Florent Malouda as Villas-Boas looked to add some creativity to unlock the stubborn Norwich defence. With 11 minutes on the board, there was some nervousness that the away side could nick a point despite being a man down.
Mata calmed those nerves – but he kept Chelsea fans sweating as he left it until the final minute of stoppage time before rolling the ball into the net after Richie De Laet’s error to secure a 3-1 win and grab the headlines.
It will have been a great learning curve for Lukaku as he lined up alongside Anelka, Lampard as well as Chelsea greats John Terry and Ashley Cole – even if he missed out on the chance to play alongside his hero Drogba, who had gone off injured earlier on following a clash with Ruddy.
His debut was overshadowed by Juan Mata – also making his first appearance – as he scored the winning goal at the death
Lukaku vowed to make the grade in the Premier League but had to leave Chelsea to do it
After the game, Lukaku spoke of how fast and physically demanding he found the Premier League to be on his first appearance in England, but insisted he was up to the challenge and vowed to cut the mustard.
He was proven right, even though he had to leave Stamford Bridge to show he was up to the task. Two loans followed in the coming years – to West Bromwich Albion and Everton, where he dazzled with a total of 32 goals in two seasons.
Everton took him on permanently in 2014 and that’s where he showed what he was truly capable of with 87 goals across three seasons and earning a £80m to Manchester United. His time at Old Trafford wasn’t the easiest but still managed 42 goals from 96 games before taking his game to the next level at Inter Milan.
Now in his prime at 28, Lukaku has worked diligently to upgrade all of his greatest assets to become one of the best strikers around – with Chelsea quickly realising it was the perfect time to bring him back to west London and make him the focal point of their attack.
He returns to the club as an established world class forward who guarantees goals
He will be the focal point of Chelsea’s attack when he makes his second home debut vs Villa
He is already off the mark since his £98m move – netting against rivals Arsenal on his second debut – and will now have his sights on scoring on his second home debut as he prepares to step out at Stamford Bridge versus Aston Villa on Saturday.
And things will be wildly different this time around – like night and day.
Lukaku has been brought back to Chelsea to be their goal-getter, someone who can guarantee them 20-plus goals a season and fire them to the title.
He won’t be the same nervous 18-year-old desperate to impress and eager to showcase his talent to an expectant crowd. Lukaku has now taken ownership of his game and expects to score, with the team looking to him to make things happen.
Chelsea splashed out £98m on Lukaku to make him their main man – he surely won’t be overshadowed when he steps out at Stamford Bridge again
Following 64 goals from 95 games in Italy, Lukaku has proven he is more than dependable, and Villa will be wary of his impressive record against them too.
The big Belgian has netted six goals in just eight appearances when up against the West Midlands outfit, although all of them came while playing for Everton.
Just like when he first walked out onto the Stamford Bridge turf – he’ll have all of the Chelsea crowd fully behind him, but this time the fans and his team-mates know exactly what he’s capable of. This time he is the main man, and he surely won’t be overshadowed.