Despite an apparent consensus that Jose Mourinho and Romelu Lukaku’s relationship ended in acrimony at Chelsea, the Portuguese manager was the first person to wish the Belgian forward well after he moved permanently to Everton in 2014 for £28 million.
Lukaku’s talent was well known but Mourinho needed a striker to win the Premier League and felt — correctly as it transpired — that he had that with the more experienced Diego Costa, rather than a player who’d just turned 22.
The sale was as controversial as Mourinho’s decision to let Lukaku’s fellow countryman Kevin De Bruyne leave Stamford Bridge, but that’s how things work at top clubs brimming with stellar talents where only so many can play.
Manchester United had to let the likes of Paul Pogba, Gerard Pique and Michael Keane leave in pursuit of potential fulfillment and regular first-team football. While a manager may be inclined to stockpile, players want to play and it was for that reason that a frustrated Lukaku went to see Mourinho and asked to move.
The manager knew Lukaku had done well on loan at West Brom in 2012-13 and Everton in 2013-14 but understood why he wanted to leave and no bridges were burned. Besides, Mourinho often links back up with players he’s managed before, from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ricardo Carvalho to Maniche, Samuel Eto’o and Michael Essien.
Lukaku moved permanently to Everton in England’s northwest and continued his improvement. Like many players at Goodison Park, he lived in the footballer-rich belt of leafy south Manchester. In 2016, his friend Pogba moved back to the area when he rejoined United.
The two were regularly spotted in local restaurants and one United fan approached the pair for a photo on the night after United had beaten Bournemouth on the opening day of last season. Both have solid reputations for being friendly with fans but, on this occasion, Pogba was “facetiming” a friend and otherwise too preoccupied to acknowledge the fan; Lukaku just shrugged his shoulders.
On the pitch, Lukaku’s scoring record is improving, but most of his 25 league goals last season came against weaker clubs. He got a hat trick at bottom-of-the-league Sunderland while his other strikes came vs. Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace, Man City, West Ham, Watford, Leicester, Southampton, Man City again, Bournemouth, Sunderland again, Spurs, West Brom, Hull City, Leicester again, Burnley and Arsenal.
Don’t turn your nose up, if, as United expect, he moves to Old Trafford: United struggled to overcome many struggling sides at home last season. If more of those draws had been turned into wins then the 24-point deficit from Chelsea wouldn’t have looked quite so embarrassing. And anyone who can score home and away against Man City will have no problem settling in at United.
Lukaku is fast and strong — a Mourinho-type of striker — but has had mixed fortunes against United in the past. He scored a hat trick as a West Brom substitute in a remarkable 5-5 draw in May 2013 that marked the end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s managerial career, but has failed to net in 11 other games with the Old Trafford side.
Knowing he had a chance to shine in front of 75,000 during a league game at Old Trafford in April 2016, Lukaku and his father gently flirted with United about a possible future move.
“I probably wasn’t alone in thinking that Lukaku could get the better of Daley Blind,” said former United defender David May at the time. “I have been fearful when I’ve seen Blind’s name at centre-half a couple of times this season but, each time, he’s proved me wrong. He definitely did that against Lukaku, who was the quietest that I’ve seen him.”
At one point, early in the second half with the score still 0-0, Blind stuck closely to Lukaku 10 metres from goal, refusing to be outmuscled. He then deflected the Everton forward’s shot for a corner.
In March, this writer went to watch him play for Everton. As an indicator of his popularity, a Scouse souvenir seller outside shouted: “Ross Barkley scarves! Lukaku scarves!” Fans and people at the club were confident he would stay, that they no longer had to sell.
But he didn’t sign a new contract. Everton are progressive and exciting, but they’re not in the Champions League next season, nor do they have United’s money or status. The appeal to Lukaku is just as obvious as it was to Wayne Rooney, who is set to rejoin his former club, when he joined United in 2004.
Rooney does not feature in Mourinho’s plans; Lukaku is the man that United’s boss thinks can be a leading striker. If there was a major issue between the pair then he wouldn’t be seeking to sign him. Further, Mourinho likes to sign players who’ve already spent time in England.
If the deal goes through, questions will naturally be asked about the future of Marcus Rashford. There’s not a United supporter who doesn’t want the Manchester-born forward to stay at the club he supports; he’s brilliant and was among the club’s best players in the final months of last season.
Mourinho has described him as at the head of the talent at the club and played Rashford 53 times last season. However, while the teenage striker finished the campaign strongly, he also didn’t score a league goal between September and April. Clearly he’s improving and finding consistency, just as Lukaku did.
United needed a striker with a proven record, which is why they went for Lukaku and Alvaro Morata. It was wise to have more than one option in case either chase failed or became unduly complicated. All of this might leave Morata feeling messed about, but plenty of players do the same to clubs.
Lukaku will head east on the M62 motorway — as Rooney goes in the opposite direction — and begin life with Pogba as a teammate. The pair will be vital ingredients to the future of Manchester United.
Support InfoStride News' Credible Journalism: Only credible journalism can guarantee a fair, accountable and transparent society, including democracy and government. It involves a lot of efforts and money. We need your support. Click here to Donate