Is Lukaku the right fit for United?
Just when you thought Manchester United were about to sign a striker for £60 million they go and sign a different striker for £75, or is it £100?
For most of the summer it has seemed as if the signing of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid was just around the corner. A fortnight ago stories surfaced that Morata’s agent was speaking to Madrid attempting to push the deal through. We all thought it was just a matter of time. But then out of nowhere came the news that United had made a successful bid of £75 million for Romelu Lukaku, who we all assumed was going to Chelsea. It’s hard to keep up isn’t it? Lukaku has now completed his medical and will sign for United in a deal that could rise to £90 million with an unofficial £10 million being included for United waiving the fee for Wayne Rooney to move in the opposite direction. In addition to the deal reaching £100 million, Lukaku’s agent, Mino Raiola, is set to pocket an 8 figure fee for brokering the deal. United are clearly spending some serious money on Lukaku, let’s take a look to see if he’s the right fit.
From Drogba to Milito to Benzema to Costa to Ibra, Mourinho’s teams have always featured a big strong number 9 who acts as the focal point of the team, offering goals and a strong physical presence up front and who is capable of bringing others into the game. So when Ibrahimovic succumbed to injury it became clear that United would look to replace him. Griezmann became a luxury who was swiftly sidelined and while Rashford has proven himself a talented impact player and understudy there was never any chance he would become United’s main man up front.
In the Premier League and even across European football as a whole there are very few who fit the Mourinho mould better than Lukaku. Lukaku is, quite frankly a beast, almost a freak of nature who first came to the Premier League as an 18 year old looking like a 27 year old heavyweight champion.
Lukaku technique was, and to some extent remains, rough around the edges and he does not have the sublime brilliance of Ibrahimovic. However, his goal scoring ability cannot be denied. At the age of 24 he already scored 168 goals and he has scored 104 Premier League goals in only 184 starts. A particular highlight has to be scoring 17 goals while on loan at West Bromwich Albion, a club whose top scorer tends to be a centre back who’s grabbed 5 goals from corners.
At Everton, Lukaku has improved his link up play and so despite being so physically strong that almost no one can handle him he is also capable of the kind of deft touches and subtle interplay that belies his hulking frame. That combination of physicality, dead eye finishing and link up play is a rare and valuable one, even if Lukaku still has room to improve. Not only does he fit the Mourinho mould very well, he fits what United need in being a 25 goal a season talisman. But ability alone does not make a striker, mental strength is more important than physical. The good news is that Lukaku has it in abundance.
The rumour went that when Lukaku left Belgium to move to England he told his father that he was the man of the house now. Now I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s easy to imagine him sitting his pops down and telling him to take good care of his wife. What is undeniably true though is that from his first day in England, Lukaku has shown an inspiring drive to succeed and belief that his ability and work ethic will see him do so.
The biggest source of drama with Lukaku joining United is him linking back up with Mourinho, who sold him when he was at Chelsea. However, when you understand why Mourinho then sold him you understand both why the two won’t have a problem working together and also why Lukaku will be a success. The simple reason was that Lukaku asked to leave. He wasn’t prepared to hang around on the Chelsea bench and after two very successful loan spells felt he had proved himself capable of being Chelsea’s number 9. He felt that if he wasn’t going to be the man at Chelsea, he would be so elsewhere. Mourinho accepted Lukaku’s request and allowed him to leave, wishing him luck on his way.
Since taking that leap into the unknown and moving to Everton Lukaku has become one of the Premier League’s and Europe’s elite strikers boasting a domestic record that only Kane, Aguero and Sanchez are in league with. While Mourinho will be unlikely to regret not making Lukaku his number 9 at Chelsea, he clearly recognises that he is ready to be his number 9 now. Most importantly, Lukaku’s willingness to leave Chelsea, taking a considerable step down to secure first team football is evidence of the self-belief that will make him a success in Manchester. You need a broad set of shoulders, literally and metaphorically, to lead the United line and Lukaku has the broadest of broad.
A final consideration of whether Lukaku is the right fit for United and whether he will be a success must take account of club politics. He might be right on paper, but will it actually work? Many have assumed that Mourinho’s selling of Lukaku at Chelsea is evidence of that exact principle. However, as we know, there is little chance that Mourinho and Lukaku’s history will blight their future working relationship. In fact, Lukaku looks like he will fit in perfectly at United, more so than Morata likely would or could have.
Firstly, Lukaku is already firm friends with Paul Pogba. The two are on holiday in LA together and their regular social media updates demonstrate a chemistry that, if it can be replicated on the pitch, would bring out the best in both players and the explosiveness fans have been eagerly anticipating from both. Just imagine Pogba sliding a 40 yard outside of the boot through ball to Lukaku who slams it at the speed of light past the opposing goalkeeper who is such a nervous wreck he sits crying before being substituted on a stretcher while Pogba, Lukaku and Lingard dab off into the sunset.
Secondly, Lukaku’s transfer is politically much more advantageous than Morata’s might have been. Whereas Lukaku’s deal is indirectly tied to Wayne Rooney moving in the opposite direction, Morata’s transfer may well have given Real Madrid the leverage to finally secure the signature of David De Gea. Although Rooney is a club legend it is almost universally accepted that his time at the top is over whereas David De Gea is just about United’s most important player. Being the man whose arrival led to the departure of the club’s best player would bring incredible pressure to succeed and impatience from the fans. As it stands Lukaku’s arrival is more of a changing of the guard, a new dawn for United, full of hope and optimism and as such he will have the support of the fans and will be given time to adjust. That just goes again to underline how Lukaku is the right fit for United.
Romelu Lukaku is not the player Ibrahimovic was, he is not the most technically gifted and his first touch can be a bit ‘eccentric’. But make no mistake, he is the right fit for United and will be a success. His goal scoring ability has never been in doubt. His mental strength is that of a champion and he already has friends in the dressing room. In a team of superstars Lukaku will become a superstar and surrounded by better players he will get better. Lukaku will score 25 goals a season and for that reason alone he’s the right fit, but for so many other reasons too.