The scramble for Romelu Lukaku
Last week was a moment to savour for Belgian football. It was not because of the Red Devils and their fitful campaign to qualify for Euro 2012. Nor was it related to the Champions League, the Europa League or even the domestic Jupiler League. In fact, it had nothing to do with events on the field. It was, rather, about the frenzy surrounding a promising Antwerp-born player, Romelu Lukaku.
At one point last week, Belgian papers were reporting that the 17-year-old Anderlecht striker had signed a €30 million deal with Manchester City, which would have smashed the previous Belgian record for a transfer (Marouane Fellaini's €20 million move from Standard Liège to Everton in 2008). But they appear to have been misinformed: the men in suits in Manchester and Brussels denied the claims and, for the moment, Lukaku remains with Anderlecht.
However, for a few hours, the entire football world was focusing on a Belgian player. Although the deal fell through, no-one doubted that Manchester City wanted Lukaku and that they valued him at that stunning figure. City manager Roberto Mancini signalled as much even as he denied the reports last week. "Lukaku is a good player, and he is young," Mancini said. "Maybe in the future something will happen but, at this moment, no."
City's takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group now makes it the richest club in the world, and its current position - third in the English Premiership - shows how serious their new Arab owners are. That Lukaku, dubbed the "new Didier Drogba", was also linked to Chelsea, Real Madrid and Arsenal, also says much about how highly he is rated.
Born in Antwerp of Congolese origin, Lukaku joined the Lierse youth team at six, where he scored 130 goals in 68 games. He moved to Anderlecht at 12, and, since making his first team debut in 2009 at just 16, he has scored 28 times in 54 appearances. He also became the youngest player to appear in the Champions League, when, at 16, he played against Lyon in a qualification match.
Lukaku's physique is stunning: at 1.92m and 95kg he is the size a basketball player, and he can certainly impose himself on the field. He has also formed a formidable striking partnership at Anderlecht with Mbark Boussoufa, who last Wednesday claimed Belgian football's Golden Shoe for best player (Lukaku was second).
The bond between the two players is so strong that Lukaku was invited on stage at the awards ceremony by Boussoufa, who said: "He deserves this just as much as I do, and I want to congratulate him on a fantastic season." It was a poignant moment: like anyone else who has seen him, Boussoufa knows Lukaku is unlikely to remain in Belgian football for long.