There’s no doubt that Romelu Lukaku is going to be the striker to keep an eye on in the upcoming Premier League campaign. Three excellent seasons at Everton ensured the young Belgian was subject to a bidding war between Chelsea and Manchester United this summer; he surprisingly opted against returning to his former club, and instead rejoined José Mourinho as part of the Portuguese coach’s grand rebuilding project. He’s proven to be one of the most prolific players in the division, and should score a hatful at Old Trafford.
Why you'll love watching him
Whether real or mere illusion, there seems to have been a move over the last decade away from the traditional striker. The rise of the dainty, Lionel Messi-style forward appeared to precipitate the demise of the pure goalscorer, a sentiment echoed by Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger back in 2015. The Frenchman — presumably on the back of having spent the afternoon watching Olivier Giroud lumber around the training pitch — bemoaned how "Europe doesn’t produce strikers any more." If Lukaku had been watching, it would surely have forced a chuckle.
After all, the Antwerp native — and product of Anderlecht’s youth academy — went on to score 18 Premier League goals for Everton that season, largely in the manner of the traditional centre-forward whose decline Wenger had prematurely proclaimed. The following season — last season — Lukaku went even better, netting a huge 25 league goals for the Toffees. Wenger might be struggling to get his hands on a pure striker, but they’ve certainly not disappeared forever.
Lukaku is very much in the mold of the classic No. 9, the kind of player whose uncanny ability to find the net creates the impression of a seventh sense, something us mere mortals are missing. In reality, of course, it’s the fortunate contribution of attributes: a brilliant ability to read the flight of the ball and the minds of defenders, the pace and power to shrug off the last man, and an unerring composure in front of goal. He may not contribute much to the build-up play, but you can bet he’ll be there when the ball’s played into the penalty area.
Ultimately, he scores a ton of goals, and who doesn’t like goals?
How much did he cost?
The BBC — not known for their idle speculation — reported upon the completion of the deal that Lukaku had set United back an initial £75 million, with the potential for add-ons to bring the deal up to a final sum of £90m. That’s undoubtedly a big figure — at the time of writing the sixth biggest in history — but, in the current market, not a particularly unfair one. United needed a striker, Lukaku is proven both as a goalscorer and in the Premier League, and he’s exactly the sort of forward Mourinho likes to work with. It appeared to be a pretty good deal for all parties — all except Chelsea, who were edged out in the race for the Belgian’s signature.
Wage wise, Lukaku is reportedly setting United back £250,000 a week — that’s second only to Paul Pogba, who picks up a hefty £40,000 more. That comes as no real surprise: Lukaku is, after all, one of United’s seriously high-ticket items. Any success they’re going to have this season is going to be in no small part down to Lukaku’s contribution. It’s also worth remembering that both Pogba and Lukaku share the same agent, Mino Raiola — he was probably able to use Pogba’s wage as leverage when brokering the deal.
Worth the money?
It’s always difficult to talk about value for money, especially when it’s United splashing the cash. Part of the problem is that they’ve got so much of the stuff that it’s difficult to ascertain when necessary spending ends and frittering begins; other clubs — and agents — know this too, and are able to extract unduly inflated prices. Having said that, the flipside is that money is scarcely any object for United: the only thing that really matters is making sure they’ve got the right player. And in Lukaku, they’ll be pretty confident of that.
The departure of Zlatan Ibrahimović over the summer left United with a big hole up top — one neither Marcus Rashford nor Anthony Martial seemed ready to fill. Resolving the issue was thus one of Mourinho’s top market priorities, and he’ll be delighted to have signed a player who ticks all of his boxes. Lukaku may be young but he has bags of Premier League experience. It’s hard to come by a more proven goalscorer currently playing in the English top flight.
What’s more, the Belgian is exactly the kind of towering forward Mourinho likes to spearhead his attacks. Questions have occasionally been raised about the Belgian’s clumsiness on the ball — indeed, United great Ryan Giggs articulated such fears in an interview with Sky Sports recently — but his ability to roll off the shoulder of defenders underscores an ability to create chances even when service is lacking. The intelligence of his runs is backed up by awesome power and pace, and his remarkable goal return over the last few seasons is the inevitable result. Worth the money? Almost certainly, yes.
Main photo: Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images