Lukaku the perfect fit for resurgent United

Romelu Lukaku was meant to in blue by the time the new season kicked off. Either at Everton, where he was contracted, or Chelsea, where he seemingly wanted to be.

Romelu Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku in action for Beligum Source: Getty Images

How blind-sided the football world was when news filtered through on Friday that a red team had entered the fray. Within 24 hours, it was confirmed that Manchester United's offer had been accepted.

Suddenly, the wheels that had turned slowly for a long time begun spinning frantically. Chelsea’s relaxed attitude to acquiring Lukaku was thrown into chaos. It is said they submitted a bid for the Belgian striker on Friday night but by then it was too late.

With holiday-mate Paul Pogba in Lukaku’s ear whispering good things about Manchester, the deal was done. As they head to Los Angeles for their pre-season tour, United might go for some real Hollywood pizzazz when they unveil their new striker this week.


The deal will end up costing them an equivalent of the £100 million (A$169 million) that was flagged in this column several months back. United will play £75 million up front (A$127 million) and £15 million (A$26 million) in bonuses, with Wayne Rooney – valued at £10 million (A$16 million) – thrown in as well. And so while Paul Pogba’s £89 million (A$150 million) deal remains the world record fee, this could (at least theoretically) eclipse it.

At 24, Lukaku is entering the peak of his career. He relies on a devastating combination of pace and power, off-setting his oft-derided first touch. He’s not as good as Didier Drogba or Ruud van Nistlerooy just yet but generally mixes the best qualities of both.

To that end, one can debate the merits of the fee, but United have solved their striking problem for the next six or seven years at least. In this market, where true strikers are rare, that’s priceless.

Let’s not forget that this club needs to be playing in the Champions League every year if they are stay on top of their finances. They’ve been in-and-out in the post-Fergie era, which isn’t good enough for a team of their stature.

There were shades of the Liverpool post-1990 decline in Manchester United but the combination of Lukaku, last year’s record signing Paul Pogba and the arrival of Jose Mourinho in the dugout seems to indicate the powers that be at Old Trafford won’t let such a thing happen.

Critically, United’s starting side now has one of the best age profiles of any of the “big six” of English football. Just look at the attack – all of Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard are under 25. Fringe squad member Ashley Young, aged 32, looks grandfatherly by comparison.

Once they get to know how to play with each other, they’ll have years and years of productivity. You can’t underestimate familiarity in a front third and within 18 months, they’ll be interchanging with their eyes closed. That’s going to be worth a lot of goals for United.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic enjoyed a wonderful year at Old Trafford but that was only ever a temporary arrangement. There’s still talk he might come back – and it may well be the right call – but the urgency is less now. United can look to strengthen other areas of their team.

As for Everton, it’s a tricky one. They shelled out £30 million (£28 million transfer fee, £2 million initial loan fee) for four years of barnstorming service: no player has scored more English Premier League goals (68) for the Toffees. In the end, they gained 87 goals (in all competitions) in 166 games, a potential cash profit of £60 million and got a favourite son back. 

There was always the feeling that Lukaku’s stay on Merseyside was only ever a stepping-stone. If it was a surprise that Everton were able to secure him on loan in 2013, it was even more surprising when the deal was confirmed a year later.

Despite a small dip in form in 2014-15, he bounced back in major way in the last two seasons, scoring 43 league goals and establishing his credentials as one of the world’s best.

He’ll get superior midfield service at United, which is what he’s always craved. That means more goals without the need to work tirelessly, as he did at Goodison Park. This is a signature to put them back in the title race – not just for this year, but for many seasons to come.

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4 min read
Published 10 July 2017 at 8:45am
By Sebastian Hassett