Manchester United is arguably one of the greatest clubs the world has ever seen. Through its storied history, Old Trafford has been the home of some of the most gifted forwards to ever grace a football field. From Best and Law to van Nistelrooy and Rooney, United fans have been spoiled with prolific strikers for generation after generation. But in recent years, things have taken a turn. Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, Manchester United have struggled to find a figurehead. While Zlatan electrified last season, he was only a temporary solution to a longstanding problem. This week, Manchester United have doubled down and risked £75 million on Romelu Lukaku. But were they right to do so?
The tale of Romelu Lukaku’s career is one awash with meteoric highs. When he burst onto the scene at Anderlecht, his natural scoring ability was immediately apparent. His fire-rate and physicality attracted suitors for the young striker from all across Europe, but it was the allure of London’s lights that would lead him to join Chelsea F.C.. For Chelsea, Lukaku was a natural fit; a tall and powerful striker that could be molded into the likeness of their then-star Didier Drogba. As Lukaku spent time with the first team his talent was apparent. And yet, he was unable to break into the first team. And at this time, a string of Chelsea managers would see it fit to loan him out.
It was during Lukaku’s loan periods where we were first shown his true talent. At West Bromwich Albion, he was powerful and fit their style of play to a tee. The following season, he found himself becoming Everton’s reliable talisman. A permanent move to Everton brought him the acclaim he sought. As the lone star of an otherwise unremarkable team, Lukaku’s talent stood out. But this phenomenon also guarded him from criticism for his fundamental flaws. Lukaku’s goal-scoring talent was and always will be indisputable, but his full game leaves a lot to be desired. This is what drove Chelsea to let him go in the first place.
Chelsea dodged a bullet it by not paying out for Lukaku this summer. Conte et al. are feeling the pressure to replace Costa, who seems decided on a move away from the Bridge. But their desperation blinded them into believing Lukaku is a player from the same class as Costa. Lukaku’s first touch is mediocre at best and this would not work for a team like Chelsea—one that relies so dearly on interplay between their center forward and wingers. It is impossible to imagine Lukaku linking up well with Hazard, Pedro or Willian consistently.
While it may sting now, Chelsea are better off losing out on Lukaku.
Manchester United fans will likely be celebrating this huge signing, but in my opinion this will be one they regret. Lukaku seems to fall apart against the bigger teams and a big-game player is what United need most. While Lukaku is a proven goal scorer, I feel he will struggle to live up to the expectations of the United faithful. United desperately needed a striker and Lukaku was available, so on one level this transfer makes sense. But the Red Devils would have been much wiser to test Tottenham’s resolve and pursue Harry Kane aggressively. The English-born striker fits United’s style much better. And, is someone who could have been the figurehead to build the team around for the next decade.
For Chelsea all is not lost, however. Álvaro Morata seems like the perfect fit for the Blues. As a striker with great hold-up and linkage skills, Morata would fill Costa’s void seamlessly. He would also likely cost a lot less than Lukaku. If the Morata deal can’t be made, Chelsea will gravitate towards Andrea Belotti, who proved to be a gifted goal scorer in Serie A this past season.