For context the reason I am writing this, is in hindsight, did United undervalue Romelu Lukaku? Or better yet, did the Premier League as whole under-appreciate Romelu Lukaku. Looking back, I have fond memories of Lukaku. Despite his scintillating form for Inter Milan this season (22 goals, 4 assists in all competitions) I argue that we signed Lukaku at the peak of his powers with all the attributes to be unplayable as a forward. I always remember him explaining his game to Jamie Carragher highlighting that if he turns on a defender with his back to them, “it’s done”, a player that exuded confidence! Overall, I always feel confidence was a crucial element to Lukaku’s game, regardless of touch or technique. I remember Lukaku on his debut steamrolling West Ham which showed promise to what would be a mixed tenure at United. Overall Lukaku’s time in the Prem can be debated.
On the 6th of August 2011, Chelsea signed 18-year-old Romelu Lukaku from Anderlecht for a reported 20 million. Lukaku was a prospect that emerged through the Belgian side. A robust, fast and clinical striker it seemed like the Andres Villas Boas regime would mold him into a formidable striker for years to come, in addition to being Didier Drogba’s understudy. However, there wasn’t much trust in giving Lukaku minutes, with the Belgian only getting 8 appearances in the Premier league, along with cup game cameos, and surprisingly left out of the Champions League squad. I personally did not co-sign young players joining Chelsea at that time, or even in modern day. The Chelsea job is ruthless with high stakes so realistically no manager can put their utmost faith in starting a youngster and the youngster performing.
Lukaku’s breakout season would come in the form of a loan move to West Brom, under the management of Steve Clarke. This is where he would make 35 appearances and score a stunning 17 goals in the premier league in a remarkable season for West Brom that saw them finish 8th. This is one of the great loan move stories for me, Lukaku gets a coach like Steve Clarke (previously part of the Chelsea coaching staff) who understands the ruthless foundations at Chelsea, so puts faith in Romelu that not only benefits Romelu but also his job and the West Brom’s league position (which is emphasized the following Lukaku-less season where Steve Clarke loses his job and West Brom get relegated). The West Brom loan spell can be summarized by a West Brom 5-5 United result where despite most considering the game a Fergie farewell blowout match, Lukaku looked unplayable with a Hattrick. That game was probably where I first thought a player of his quality wouldn’t look out of place in the United ranks.
By the time Lukaku returned from his West Brom loan spell, Chelsea had went through their standard transitional phase of having multiple managers (Di Matteo, Rafa Benitez and then Jose Mourinho) by the time Lukaku returned for the 13/14 season. Lukaku’s missed penalty in the Super Cup may have been a catalyst in deciding that he would then be considered surplus to requirements for Mourinho’s side.
I would tend to think Jose opts for dealing with experienced players rather than knowing how to coach young players, most notably loaning out Lukaku that season and signing a Samuel Eto’o at the twilight of his career. This would be the second great loan story in Lukaku’s career, following up from the amazing West Brom loan. At this stage he matured into being accustomed to the physicality of the premier league. This was also at the same time Roberto Martinez was at the Everton helm and brought a new brand of expansive football that Lukaku thrived under (until we discovered Martinez was a tiki taka fraud). Lukaku would finish the season with an impressive 16 goals in 33 appearances in a season where he showed signs of being a consistent dangerous forward for years to come. This would eventually influence Everton to pay a club record 28 million for the forward, which signaled the end of Lukaku’s time at Chelsea.
This would be the season that would test the reputation of Lukaku, no longer is he the Belgian prodigy but a 28 million striker with a higher ceiling expected of him. 14/15 would show minor decline, with Lukaku just reaching double digits with 10 goals in the league, but a respectable 20 goals in all competitions. 15/16 would be the season Lukaku was on the name of everyone’s lips again and he would be put into contention as the best striker in England with 18 goals in the league. I can recall goals where he bulldozed the Chelsea defence in the FA cup at his best that season. Despite this, he became fed up with Martinez’ system and uninspiring tactics, like most Everton players that would eventually lead to Martinez’ sacking towards the end of the season.
The consensus surrounding Ronald Koeman from Everton fans isn’t the best (which is a massive understatement when you read Sean’s Koeman article) but there is an argument Lukaku exploded under Koeman, whatever system Koeman plays (who even knows) worked tremendously for Lukaku. In 16/17 Lukaku would score a staggering 25 goals in the premier league, immediately putting him in the bracket of the Kane’s and Aguero’s that season. Once he got put in this exclusive bracket he was wanted by the biggest clubs in Europe. It would be a battle in the summer between United and Chelsea for his signature. Everything seemed aligned for him to join Chelsea, Prem champions at the time, Conte waxing lyrical on his Lukaku fixation every week (Conte dropped Costa in a heartbeat over the idea of this, CRIMINAL MOVE!!).
However, since being shipped out by Chelsea Lukaku made it a habit of haunting them, and I would claim him turning down Chelsea to join United is what derailed the Conte gravy train.
BLOCKBUSTER!! #RedRom!! RED CARPET!! LOS ANGELES MEDICAL!! The stage was set for Lukaku. Signed by United for 75 million, I know guys in Agenda FC would admit that this signing, and the Pogba signing put fear in their hearts. And it was an incredible start to life at the Red Devils with Lukaku grabbing a goal in the Super Cup final vs Real Madrid. This would then be followed up with a brace on his home debut against West Ham.
Lukaku had an exceptional opening season at Old Trafford with 51 appearances, 27 goals in all competitions. In recent times with the turnover of strikers I’ve seen at United, Lukaku is one of the few strikers that on his day would be devastating in front of goal (albeit his touch was a massive flaw to his game along with his hold play if he’s on the ball too long). Lukaku’s first season would prove to be a promising one.
Beginning of the end
He would return the following season in some slight post World Cup out of shapeness. For me this was something minor that could’ve been rectified within a month or two of hard work in the gym and the training ground. However, in reflection, the first half of the 18/19 season was a season of escalation and implosion.
Jose being Jose
Multiple factors for this, Jose in Jose fashion downed tools when he didn’t get the players he wanted completely, along with creating a horrific atmosphere in the changing room (which is an understatement, I firmly believe we would’ve seen an exodus of our best players if he stayed the entirety of the season). The team was under performing and in a crisis.
I for one feel sympathy for Lukaku, although he was in a run of bad form, he was an unwarranted victim and scapegoat to United’s form. That’s just the format our fans like to swear by, blame an individual player for an overall team slump, it’s the easier option rather than to ACTUALLY assess how we play. It felt like the beginning of the end of Romelu’s time at United. He was subject to a meme whether it was about his weight, his form, his touch, all of the above. It’s one thing criticizing our players, but our fans initiating a meme on our own players, how do these fools expect our players to gain confidence.
Time under Ole
By the time Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed manager, Lukaku’s form and confidence was shot. This was also at the same time when it didn’t feel like Ole or the board were backing him. I still believe to an extent, this was Lukaku’s outlier half season, most players have had it, but our coaching staff and board didn’t know how to handle it and began to believe the meme, let’s not pretend he didn’t contribute to crucial Champions League moments against PSG, and still put a modest 15 goals in all competitions.
Conte gets his man
Summer of 2019 it seemed like Lukaku’s mind was made up, having publicly came out a number of times with his issues at United and the reluctance to stay. I was completely inclined to agree with Lukaku as he said he didn’t feel backed by the manager, he stated in Josh Harts podcast that he joined the club with the idea of trust and during his slump in form he didn’t feel ‘protection’ from the club publicly.
It made sense he joined a Conte side too as Conte seemed fixated on the striker for years, and the system Inter played allowed him to thrive in a double striker pivot with Lautaro Martinez, getting rid of the burden of expecting service as a lone striker. He would join Inter on the 8th August for a reported 75 million.
Ultimately, I feel like Lukaku was underappreciated as a prem striker. There’s the perception that he could not cut it in the prem, so he went off to the Serie A, a slower paced league. However, the guy averaged 16 goals every prem season from the age of 19 including an explosive 18 and 25 goal seasons. He was one of the youngest and quickest players to reach 50 and 100 premier league goals and at the rate he was going was well capable of breaking the Shearer record. It was evident he had a downturn in form in an outlier season, the following season with Inter he revived is career and can be regarded again as one of the top 10 strikers in football right now. While United forwards (Rashford, Martial, Greenwood) have impressive goalscoring records for United post – Lukaku, I still feel they lack a young player in his prime, with a high striker IQ as they had with Lukaku (Ibra and Cavani have been great servants to the club, but I’m tired of signing these old timers to essentially coach our young forwards on how to be strikers). Overall, it’s a Premier League tragedy for me, Lukaku was one of the most dangerous forwards in the Prem and could’ve been a massive commercial image for the league as a whole, but I feel he was underappreciated and its shame because I have my doubts that we’ll see him in the league again.
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