With Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s untimely injury seemingly cutting short his Manchester United career (at least for now) the priority for the Reds this summer was obvious; a new striker was a must.
Alvaro Morata’s name dominated the headlines but the club remain adamant that the Spaniard was never the priority target. Out of the blue, and at the expense of the blues from West London, Romelu Lukaku was announced as a Manchester United player on 10 July 2017 for an initial fee of £75million.
At 24 years of age the Belgian striker certainly fits the profile of a player who could go on to enjoy his best years at the club. Strong, fast and physical; Lukaku fits the traditional mould of a Mourinho talisman.
Football isn’t played on paper, but United’s new number 9 brings with him some impressive statistics. Lukaku has more goals for club and country at 24 than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez each had respectively.
The Belgian is one of only 4 players to have scored 80 Premier League goals before the age of 24 (the others being Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen & Wayne Rooney) and one of only 3 players to have scored more than 10 Premier League goals in the last 5 consecutive seasons (the others being Sergio Aguero & Olivier Giroud).
In terms of recent form, Lukaku scored 53 goals in 110 Premier League appearances for Everton and was directly involved in 31 Premier League goals last season, scoring 25 times and assisting 6 goals for his teammates.
It is clear, then, why the striker was so highly coveted by Manchester United and Chelsea alike.
Despite the impressive statistics, though, doubts certainly remain as to Lukaku’s true quality. A poor first touch and the tendency to go missing when it really matters are common concerns attached to the striker.
With Chelsea having now securing the services of Alvaro Morata, comparisons will be inevitable. Indeed, few would argue that the Spaniard isn’t a better footballer in the purist sense. Good technically and able to link the play, but does that mean he would’ve been a better acquisition?
Time will tell, of course, but in Lukaku the Reds’ manager Jose Mourinho has bought a Premier League proven goal scorer and that is exactly what United needed.
Many may draw comparisons with Zlatan Ibrahimovic due to physique and stature but they are very much stylistically different footballers. The Swede often looks to drop deep and get involved in the play, whereas Lukaku plays as a real point man on the last line of defence, using his pace to threaten in behind.
To that end, the forward’s perceived poor technique at times may be a moot point; Mourinho and Manchester United weren’t looking for a player to drop deep and link the play with cute touches.
With so many points dropped last season against lower opposition the Reds needed a real goal scoring threat to play, and crucially stay, on the last line of defence, and that is Romelu Lukaku.
The Belgian’s job in the side and in Mourinho’s system is to score goals, not necessarily to have any meaningful involvement in the build up, and that is perhaps why he was the preferred target over a more technically gifted player such as Alvaro Morata.
The Reds needed goals and that, on the statistics, is exactly what Romelu Lukaku guarantees.
The striker’s close relationship with Paul Pogba should also be seen as a positive. Genuine connections on the pitch can make a huge difference and all associated with United will hope that the two can link on the pitch as well as they do off it.
At 24, it’s time for Romelu Lukaku to take his career to the next level and it is hoped that the striker will prove to be a prolific acquisition for years to come.
Welcome to Manchester United, Romelu Lukaku.