After scoring for fun on the opening day of the season against Chelsea, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team have struggled to convert their higher possession and chances created against Wolves and Crystal Palace into goals. While it’s still early days, there will be plenty of Manchester United supporters who are already questioning the decision to allow Romelu Lukaku to leave for Inter Milan without replacing him.
He sealed a move away to Italy in the summer after a disappointing second season at the club. Even before Solskjaer was appointed, Lukaku struggled for goals, despite being a favourite of former manager Jose Mourinho. The Belgian would start more or less every game, regardless of form, but had scored just six goals in 22 appearances before Mourinho was sacked.
It became clear early on that Solskjaer preferred Marcus Rashford and Lukaku finished the season with 15 goals in 45 appearances, with him looking way too bulky and his already questionable first touch on the decline.
Lukaku divided the United fan base since he first signed in the summer of 2017 and at times was on the receiving end of more stick than he deserved from some fans. The team has been frustrating as a whole for several years now but patience wears thin fairly quickly with strikers when they aren’t scoring. Still, he had plenty of support from the fans too, particularly from match-going supporters and especially during that first season when he scored an impressive 27 goals in 51 games.
However, whether you liked Lukaku or not, one unavoidable criticism was how infrequently he scored goals in big matches.
To illustrate the point, Norwich’s Teemu Pukki has only played three games of Premier League football in his career, two of those against top-six sides, and he already has two goals to his name. Lukaku, in 20 games for United against the top six over the past two seasons, scored just once.
When you consider that Rashford scored four goals against Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs in that same period of time, despite rarely leading the line, it puts Lukaku’s tally against the top clubs into perspective. Still, Lukaku wasn’t a disaster, he did offer something to the team, and there will be occasions when they miss not having him as an option from the bench at least. Saturday’s defeat against Palace may well be one of them.
But regardless, his departure should have been amicable, and it’s anything but that now.
There were some United fans who wanted him to leave, others who thought he should stay if the club weren’t going to sign a replacement, and those who weren’t really bothered either way. But Lukaku’s behaviour over the past few weeks has been bizarre and created a rift that didn’t need to be there.
It started on social media when he posted a picture with his agent Federico Pastorello with the caption ‘soon to be continued’, in the midst of rumours linking him with a move to the Serie A. It wasn’t the worst thing but it was unnecessary and childish. The following week, he took to Instagram again to leak confidential training data about the top speeds the players had achieved. He ranked second behind Diogo Dalot, with the caption reading ‘lack of pace’. It was swiftly deleted but Solskjaer was reportedly less than impressed.
A lack of pace isn’t really something Lukaku has been criticised for though, so he’s exposing some insecurities he has with actions like this and also exhibits a level of unprofessionalism. Luke Shaw, who was shown as the slowest in the data Lukaku revealed, was quick to respond on Twitter, claiming that he had only been asked to work at 70%, followed by “don’t let me start speaking on you”.
It’s little wonder that his teammates didn’t have any glowing reports or fond farewells to offer Lukaku on social medial when his transfer was completed. There doesn’t appear to be any love lost in the dressing room. While Lukaku isn’t slow, it’s clear to see he has carried a lot more weight than when he first signed, whether that’s through too much bulking up in the gym or not having the right diet. Gary Neville was among those who questioned Lukaku’s professionalism for allowing himself to get overweight and was glad to see the back of him.
“If Manchester United are trying to set a new tone and culture through the club, which Ole is trying to do, any lack of professionalism has got to be stamped upon. He didn’t want to be here anyway. Romelu Lukaku has admitted himself that he was overweight so he has removed all doubt.
He is over 100kg! [15st 10lbs] He’s a Manchester United player! Unprofessionalism is contagious.”
Last week, reports suggested that Lukaku had turned up to Inter Milan training overweight and was in danger of missing their first league game of the season as a result.
Again, Lukaku let his insecurity show by posting a shirtless picture of himself, abs on display, saying ‘not bad for a fat boy’. He isn’t fat, but he is too big and heavy, and that’s something he should address, instead of firing shots. Speaking to the LightHarted Podcast with Josh Hart, in an episode recorded prior to his transfer, Lukaku gave a damning appraisal of the club, claiming he left because they didn’t speak out to deny rumours that he was going to be sold.
“A lot of stuff has been said where I didn’t feel protected. I felt like a lot of rumours, ‘Rom going there’, ‘they don’t want Rom’, and nobody came out to shut it down. It was for a good three, four weeks. I’m waiting for someone to come out and shut it down. It didn’t happen. I had my conversation, told them it was better to go our separate ways. If you’re happy, you find a way, it doesn’t matter if you’re on the bench or starting. But nobody told me that was the situation, so I thought for two, three weeks to analyse, see all shit coming out in the media. Who leaks it? Not me. Not my agent. I see it on my phone come out of nowhere. I told them it’s not good for me to be at a place where I’m not wanted.”
Lukaku didn’t report back for pre-season training, instead preferring to join up with former club Anderlecht while he continued to push for a transfer. But it’s unlikely that he was missed. He’s also been accused of taking shots at former United teammate, Anthony Martial, although he didn’t mention him by name, when mocking French players for celebrating winning the World Cup even when they didn’t make the squad.
“I was in Miami, there was some players who didn’t even make the cut for the World Cup,”Lukaku said. “They were fronting with the trophy. I’m like what the f**k, you didn’t even play.”
Any doubts over whether Lukaku’s sale was the right decision or not has been quashed at least, as it is clear he wasn’t going to offer anything positive to the dressing room. He may well go on to do well for Inter but you can’t regret selling a player who carries on like a spoilt brat for the world to see. But after Palace, there will be plenty more questions on why he was sold without being replaced by someone with the right attitude and mentality to succeed at United.