He’s a big burly beast of a striker, he comes with proven Premier League pedigree and boasts a remarkable record. But is he the man for Manchester United?
The appropriately dubbed ‘silly season’ produces surprises and plot twists at every turn and the news that United have agree a £75 million fee with Everton for Romelu Lukaku certainly raised a few eyebrows.
Despite the links between the Premier League giants and the Belgian international all summer, it was Alvaro Morata’s proposed move to Old Trafford that dominated headlines where United were concerned.
Ever since Antoine Griezmann decided to stay with Atletico Madrid after their transfer ban was upheld, the Real Madrid striker emerged as United’s chief target albeit after enduring a little competition from the Andrea Belotti reports.
Now, out of the Merseyside blue, Lukaku’s transfer to United is all but sealed. The 24-year-old striker would of course be a massive coup, he is after all one of the most sought after young strikers, there’s no doubt about that. He’s proven in the Premier League and, at that age, few players in world football can boast a record that comes close to his.
However, this development has been met with plenty of bewilderment and that’s down to more reasons than one.
Jose Mourinho sold Lukaku while he was at Chelsea for £24 million and has somehow witnessed a growth in the striker so vast that it justifies spending over £50 million on top of that to be reunited with him?
United scored just once away to top six opposition last season and have opted to rectify that by bringing in a player who has scored just four times in his last 33 appearances against those teams?
Lukaku has not yet proved his worth as a big-game player. In fact, his scoring pattern is questionable as well, enjoying goal gluts against weaker opposition but going missing against more sophisticated defences. The notion that he is something of a flat-track bully does hold some water.
If it’s a quicker tempo United are moving towards, Lukaku may not be the ideal man to facilitate that. Physically speaking, he is deceptively quick. Last season he clocked a speed of 35km/h according to Opta, making him the fourth fastest striker in the Premier League behind Shane Long, Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy.
However, it’s his speed of thought that will come under scrutiny. Lukaku’s link-up play leaves much to be desired. A poor first touch is an unfortunate trait he’s been cursed with and can be particularly frustrating when good moves are undone by sloppy control on his part.
Lukaku receiving skills... pic.twitter.com/wcS3MUaz8j— The Analysts Eye (@TheAnalysisVids) September 12, 2016
Rene Meulensteen was Sir Alex Ferguson’s No2 during a time when the team played arguably the best football under the Scot. In an interview with talkSPORT earlier this year, the Dutchman claimed Lukaku would ‘fall short’ as a United player, should Mourinho opt for his services.
While appreciating his strength and prowess in front of goal, it’s the finer aspects of an elite striker’s game that concerned Meulensteen when discussing the Belgian.
“What he needs to develop definitely is his game on the ball, in terms of quick combinations with his team-mates. That is where he falls short.
“Yes, he would bring power, he would bring strength, but when you look over the years at the strikers United have had, does he fit in the same line of strikers? I don’t think so.”
Meulensteen’s concerns are well-founded. When you think about it, Morata is more likely the striker who would fit into the pre-determined parameters of a leading United striker.
He has no significant weakness, is a well-rounded player, consistent and clinical in front of goal and crucially, he’s experienced in terms of winning trophies. He’s amassed a total of 13 trophies at club level and has also won European Championships with Spain’s U-19 and U-21 sides, winning the Golden Boot on both occasions.
Morata is also a proven match-winner. Last season, his contributions won 13 points for Madrid in La Liga, only Cristiano Ronaldo (14) accounted for more. He’s only about six months older than Lukaku as well.
Nevertheless, there’s every chance that Everton’s highest Premier League scorer will develop and grow into the kind of striker worthy of spearheading United’s attack for years to come. He’s got all the raw materials and will have a fantastic coach to work with in Mourinho to mature into a more cunning and cultured striker.
He’s often been likened to Didier Drogba but while pace and brute force was a huge part of the Ivorian’s displays, there was an intelligence and finesse about him that put him among the Premier League’s elite.
Lukaku can already count himself among the best to have graced the league in terms of his numbers but stats don’t tell the whole story.
He will have plenty of time to justify that £75 million price tag but it won’t be easy. He may well find a tedious path ahead of him, with the media shining a light on his every shortcoming and fans berating him for every miscontrolled ball. But at least he’ll have Paul Pogba for company.