Bundesliga

Football Whispers' 20 to watch in 2019: Dodi Lukebakio

 • by Adam Newson
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As Fortuna Düsseldorf gleefully celebrated on the Allianz Stadium pitch, the television picture cut to Manuel Neuer. The Bayern Munich goalkeeper looked slightly bewildered, a little dazed.

He had just conceded three goals, in itself a shock given Bayern’s usual supremacy, especially at home. But what had likely surprised the 32-year-old was the nature of the goals: they had all been scored by the same player.

Neuer had never conceded a hat-trick in the Bundesliga until that night. He had never watched the same player wheel away in celebration on three occasions. Yet records are meant to be broken and, on a chilly November evening, Dodi Lukebakio did just that.

Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. The 21-year-old’s treble highlighted his anticipation, pace, composure and skill. Neuer, for the latter two goals, was simply a bystander, an irritant as the young forward wrote his name into Bundesliga history.

“When I was on the pitch I wasn’t thinking about who I was up against,” Lukebakio would later explain. “I have a lot of respect for these players but when I am on the pitch I only think of one thing: how to win.”

Fortuna didn’t actually win the game that night, it only felt like that because they mounted a comeback from 3-1 down. Yet the Belgian, who joined the club on loan from Watford in the summer, had added to his growing reputation in emphatic fashion.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I will never forget this moment because it’s very special. I hope to live many more moments like this.”

And he has done. Four games later, he struck the opener against Borussia Dortmund, a goal that helped consign BVB to their first league defeat of the season. There have also been assists against Augsburg and VfB Stuttgart.

Lukebakio is unpredictable. A defender’s nightmare – no attacking player in the Bundesliga this season has completed more take-ons than his 2.95 per 90.

“His pace and dribbling… it’s something else,” Wolfsburg defender Jérôme Roussillon told Bild after their meeting in October. “I’ve never experienced anything like it in the Bundesliga. He is the toughest opponent I’ve faced since I moved here.”

Dodi Lukebakio, Fortuna Düsseldorf, Watford

In 22 appearances this season Lukebakio has struck eleven times – he is Fortuna’s top scorer – and registered three assists. Impressively, he has been involved in a goal for the club every 94 minutes.

So the obvious question. Why did Watford let him leave on loan?

The Hornets signed the attacker in January 2018 from Belgian club Anderlecht but a 15-minute cameo against West Ham United, in which he looked lightweight and, to be blunt, out of his depth, was the only first-team opportunity he was afforded by Javi Gracia.

So when Fortuna wanted to borrow Lukebakio from the Premier League side for the 2018/19 campaign, it was a deal which suited all parties. In truth, Watford were unlikely to have anticipated the youngster making such an impact.

Yet his form has not only further piqued the interest of the club Lukebakio currently calls home. According to numerous reports in Germany, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach are monitoring the forward, who would cost around €20million.

“We’ll still try to keep him [beyond this season],” Fortuna sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel said earlier this month. “We will talk to Watford. Dodi still has so much in his tank. He can take the very, very big steps later in his career.”

So why all the fuss? Well as touched on above Lukebakio combines raw pace with quick feet and plenty of imagination. He also reads the game very well, which was highlighted against Bayern.

His second goal of the night came from very little. A loose pass in midfield was chased down by Niko Gießelmann and Thomas Müller. The Fortuna defender managed to reach the ball first and knocked it forward. It was a hopeful punt.

Yet Lukebakio anticipated the pass before it was even played. His marker, Jerome Boateng, did not. That was crucial.

Dodi Lukebakio, Fortuna Düsseldorf, Watford

The Watford loanee was never going to be caught once he broke clear. And his finish was that of a seasoned veteran. There were no nerves, just cold-blooded ruthlessness.

Dodi Lukebakio, Fortuna Düsseldorf, Watford

This ability to not only take but also sniff out chances will only improve with experience. It’s extremely promising, though, that Lukebakio’s expected goals per 90 of 0.62 is the seventh highest among Bundesliga attackers this term.

There are, of course, rough edges that need to be smoothed out. His defensive work needs to improve and there are occasions where his confidence gets the better of him and he loses possession cheaply.

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There have also been instances of immaturity. Bild reported that earlier in the season Lukebakio reported late for training and was dropped from the squad to face Schalke after he missed the start of a pre-match team meeting.

And against Werder Bremen, he not only antagonised opposition players and fans after scoring a penalty but, later in the game, he popped up off the ground after feigning injury and sprinted to join an attack.

“This has nothing to do with football,” Fortuna coach Friedhelm Funkel explained. “He provokes opponents, spectators and referees. I will not let it go. He is a young player who still has a lot to learn, including that you have to behave very differently on the pitch.”

These misdemeanours can be chalked up to youthful naivety. Everyone makes mistakes, footballers are no different in that respect. And Lukebakio has proven he is a quick learner by improving his conduct on and off the field.

His newfound maturity will be tested in the summer, however. Either he returns to Watford and attempts to crack the Premier League or he makes a big-money move elsewhere.

The interested Bundesliga sides provide an intriguing option and in all probability regular first-team football, which at this stage of his career is what Lukebakio needs.

What is certain is he won’ be returning to Fortuna. “I am a brutal realist,” Funkel told Bild. “It would be a dream but not one I can imagine.”

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