Belgium hero Romelu Lukaku announced his talent to the whole world by scoring four goals in the Group Stage of the World Cup. His fantastic finishing caught the eyes of the rest of the World and announced Belgium as a threat in this World Cup. He was Belgium’s destroyer-in-chief during the huge quarterfinal tie against Brazil where the South America side had the weight of history behind them.
Brazil, with their solid defence, went into the game as favourites but in a World Cup where the favourites tag does not hold much meaning, Lukaku showed that he was indeed more than just a goal-scorer and why he was a real threat to be reckoned with. A footballer of great mental strength.
To perform against such a big side as Brazil, with the odds stacked upon your team is inspiring to say the least. Lukaku talked about this mental strength he has and the life struggles he faced in a telling interview with The Players Tribune.
Lukaku remembers a life of hardship and having no money but only hope that somehow things will change. He wanted things to change and he wanted to change things through his football.
The story accounts how his family became broke and how a six-year-old Lukaku remembered the first time he saw his mother mixing water with milk.
“I remember the exact moment I knew we were broke. I can still picture my mum at the refrigerator and the look on her face.
“I was six years old, and I came home for lunch during our break at school. My mum had the same thing on the menu every single day: Bread and milk. When you’re a kid, you don’t even think about it. But I guess that’s what we could afford.
“Then this one day I came home, and I walked into the kitchen, and I saw my mum at the refrigerator with the box of milk, like normal. But this time she was mixing something in with it. She was shaking it all up, you know? I didn’t understand what was going on. Then she brought my lunch over to me, and she was smiling like everything was cool. But I realized right away what was going on.
“She was mixing water in with the milk. We didn’t have enough money to make it last the whole week. We were broke. Not just poor, but broke.”
Even at that age, the Manchester United striker knew what needed to be done.
“I didn’t say a word. I didn’t want her to stress. I just ate my lunch. But I swear to God, I made a promise to myself that day. It was like somebody snapped their fingers and woke me up. I knew exactly what I had to do, and what I was going to do.
“I couldn’t see my mother living like that. Nah, nah, nah. I couldn’t have that.”
At only 6, Lukaku talked about playing for Belgian club Anderlecht. In his heart he knew that through football he could change his life.
“People in football love to talk about mental strength. Well, I’m the strongest dude you’re ever going to meet. Because I remember sitting in the dark with my brother and my mom, saying our prayers, and thinking, believing, knowing … it’s going to happen.
“I kept my promise to myself for a while. But then some days I’d come home from school and find my mum crying. So I finally told her one day, “Mum, it’s gonna change. You’ll see. I’m going to play football for Anderlecht, and it’s going to happen soon. We’ll be good. You won’t have to worry anymore.”
At 16, Lukaku made his first team debut for Anderlecht in the playoff final against Standard Liege.
He told the story of how he impressed his coach by making a bet. He wanted to make his first team debut at 16 but he was always on the bench for the youth team. So, one day he made a bet with the coach that if he scored 25 goals by December, he will get more playing time. The coach bargained that if he did not reach that goal tally, he would have to clean all the minivans that take the players home from training. Lukaku negotiated under the condition that the coach will have to make pancakes for them every day.
Lukaku recounts the story now and said: “That was the dumbest bet that man ever made. I had 25 by November. We were eating pancakes before Christmas, bro. Let that be a lesson. You don’t play around with a boy who’s hungry!”
Lukaku kept his promise to his mother. He wished that his grandad was around to see how their life changed.
“I just really, really wish my grandad was around to witness this. I’m not talking about the Premier League. Not Manchester United. Not the Champions League. Not the World Cups.
“That’s not what I mean. I just wish he was around to see the life we have now. I wish I could have one more phone call with him, and I could let him know …”
This Belgium side are on the brink of history. They have equalled their best ever record at World Cup after also making the semis in 1986. Two Diego Maradona goals stopped their journey in the 1986 semifinals. With talent like Lukaku, whose will to succeed depends so much on the struggles he faced while growing up, Belgium can rewrite their record books when they face France in the semifinals on July 11.