Romelu Lukaku – Gone Too Soon?
With Romelu Lukaku excelling in Italy with Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan, some are questioning whether Manchester United made the right decision in selling the striker, especially when their own forwards are lacking in consistency. Struan Garvie has a look at both sides of the transfer to see if the move has completely worked out.
Following a crucial 3-1 victory over Lazio, Inter Milan claimed the top spot of the Serie A league table, overtaking arch-rivals AC Milan in the process – they then extended that lead to four points after defeating their rivals 3-0 in the Milan Derby. The other significant event of that win over Lazio was that Romelu Lukaku scored his 300th career goal at the age of 27. Following his move from Manchester United to Inter, Lukaku has been in great form and has been scoring for fun under the management of Antonio Conte. Meanwhile, Manchester United have put their faith in other strikers such as Anthony Martial and 34-year-old Edinson Cavani.
Many believe that Lukaku would be the perfect signing for Manchester United in their current system and form, and are beginning to question whether selling Lukaku was a good idea or not. Another interesting factor is that many are now tipping Lukaku to sign for Manchester City as the replacement for Sergio Agüero. So, were United right to sell Lukaku? Or should they have held onto the Belgian marksman for at least another season?
Firstly, it has to be said that during his time at Manchester United, Lukaku did not set the world alight. There was no doubt that he was a good striker, but there were glaring flaws to his play at the time. He was often criticised for his performances in the big games and was frequently branded as ‘lazy’ by many fans and pundits. Having become a big name due to his goals in the Premier League, plying his trade for the likes of West Bromwich Albion, Chelsea and Everton before the move to United, it was clear to see his talent. However, many were still unsure if he could reach the upper echelons of “world class” footballers.
During his first season at Manchester United, Lukaku scored 16 league goals and provided a further seven assists in 34 appearances – a fairly good return for a striker. In his next season, this tally fell to just 12 goals in 32 appearances with no assists whatsoever. These numbers were average and not acceptable by United’s standards, given their desire to win the Premier League. Lukaku signed for United from Everton for a reported £75 million – at the time, this was the biggest transfer fee to be exchanged between two Premier League clubs, and needless to say the expectations were very high. During his last season at Everton, Lukaku scored 26 league goals and provided six assists in 37 appearances. That was the kind of form that United were wanting, but it just never came.
Lukaku would later lose his place in the first team for United following the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who instead used young star Marcus Rashford as his first-choice striker. This, of course, was a huge knock to Lukaku, who was already struggling with his confidence in front of goal. Perhaps the most famous win of Solskjaer’s time in charge of United so far was the 3-1 second leg victory against PSG in the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League Round of 16, after losing the first leg 2-0. The match itself will always be remembered for Rashford’s last minute winning penalty kick, however, it was Lukaku who scored United’s first two goals of the match and allowed Rashford to take the penalty, despite being on a hat-trick himself. An incredibly kind gesture from a man whose future clearly looked to be elsewhere.
The following summer, Lukaku left United to sign for Inter Milan for a reported €80 million. Lukaku had not turned up for United’s pre-season and was consequently fined for his actions. Images then came out of Lukaku training in the gym by himself, giving the impression that he was forcing his move through. At the time, a move for Lukaku seemed the best outcome for all parties. He would get to play football more regularly and United would likely move for another striker to fill the gap – as it turned out, the replacement would initially be Odion Ighalo, who signed on a 12-month loan deal from Shanghai Shenhua the following January.
At the San Siro, Lukaku has formed a great relationship on the pitch with Lautaro Martínez and the two are now widely regarded as one of the best partnerships in world football. In a way it seems that Lukaku was made for Italian football, given how quickly he has adapted to the league. Once Lukaku gets in behind the defence, there is often no chance for the opposition goalkeeper. The striker also loves a goal against fierce rivals Milan – his goal in Inter’s 3-0 win on Sunday was the fifth consecutive Milan Derby in which he’s scored.
While Lukaku has thrived in Italy, the same cannot be said of Manchester United – let’s just say they have coped. Anthony Martial was the club’s first choice striker for the 2019/20 season and was able to score 17 league goals and provide six assists in 32 league appearances. Rashford also scored 17 league goals in the same season. It seemed as though United didn’t really miss Lukaku at all. This season however, it hasn’t gone so well for United’s forwards. Rashford has continued his strong form and looks to be improving every game, but Martial seems to have hit a sticky patch, only scoring four league goals in 18 appearances thus far. In comparison, Lukaku has 17 goals in 19 league appearances so far. United’s status as top scorers in the Premier League paint a false picture of their strikers – much of the goal contribution has come from Bruno Fernandes’ midfield heroics.
On the whole though, things are positive with United. The whole squad has improved significantly since Lukaku’s departure, so the prospect of adding the Belgian’s firepower is mouthwatering to the United faithful. Seeing Lukaku line up alongside an in-form Paul Pogba, a rejuvenated Luke Shaw, a Marcus Rashford who is creeping ever so closer to being branded as world class and, of course, a creative dynamo in Bruno Fernandes is massively appealing. Sadly, this dream is seemingly just that – a dream. Lukaku’s time at United has come to an end and it does not appear like there will be any future between the two. In my opinion there is more of a chance of Lukaku signing for Manchester City over United in the future.
Strikers of Lukaku’s calibre are currently few and far between in world football and United know it. However, it is unlikely that United will pursue a striker in the upcoming window. With Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani (likely to extend his current deal) at the club, the need for a striker is not as vital as other areas. If United are to sign an attacker, it will likely be a right winger due to their lack of options on that side. Reports have also suggested that United’s current priority signing will be a new centre back to partner Harry Maguire, in order to help solve the club’s defensive issues.
A bonus for United is that they have a plethora of good young attacking prospects coming through the academy, such as Joe Hugill, Charlie McNeil and Shola Shoretire, and therefore the need to sign a new striker may not be as pressing in the future.
Maybe one day United will regret selling Lukaku, and perhaps Lukaku may regret leaving United. As for now both parties seem happy.