Romelu Lukaku. Big Rom. Rom the destroyer. And now, Red Rom.
Having made the leap from aspirational Everton to the bona fide majesty of Manchester United, Lukaku proved he is not lacking for ambition or self-belief. But then again, this is a man who joined Chelsea as an 18-year old and who happily left Chelsea to join an upper-middle table side in the knowledge that with game time, his chance would come again.
Irrevocably, this is not a man with a lack of self-confidence.
And what a CV he has too, by the age of 23 Lukaku had scored 119 first team goals, a record bettering some of the best strikers of the modern era, including David Villa, Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez and one Cristiano Ronaldo.
At just 24, Lukaku sits pretty on 99 Premier League goals and by the end of last season only one player had scored more goals over the past five years than the Belgian. Not Harry Kane, but Sergio Aguero. Clearly therefore, this is not a man lacking in goal scoring ability either.
It should have come as little surprise then that Lukaku hit the ground not so much running as sprinting. A goal on his competitive debut against Real Madrid kick started an incredible run of form which saw him bag 11 goals in his first 10 games for United.
Ibrahimovic had been a hit last season and the Red Devils, it seemed, had struck gold once more. Only this time, they had struck gold on a player only just entering his prime. The Old Trafford faithful rubbed their hands with glee.
But oxygen has a habit of thinning out the higher you climb and in short, it gets a little bit harder to breathe. Indeed, pressure exists differently when you play for one of the top 6, especially if that team is Manchester United, the biggest footballing brand in the World and a side clawing their way back to the top with all the elegance of Quasimodo on Novocaine.
Thus, when Lukaku’s unbelievable goal scoring run came to an end, to be followed by a period of pestilence in which the Belgian managed just 1 goal in his next 12, the wolves came out of hibernation.
It was as if the light had shifted and instead of looking like a near perfect physical specimen balancing raw pace and power with an unerring eye for goal, Lukaku began to resemble someone who, were it not for their immense size, wouldn’t get a game in a secondary school B-team.
Even the solace Lukaku was able to take in the international break, scoring for his country, was mired by the fact that the goal came from a first touch so abominably loose it ran away past the keeper and into the back of the net.
Clumsy, awkward and thoroughly frustrating, United fans began to question whether this guy was all he was cracked up to be. Long likened to Didier Drogba, Lukaku was beginning to look more like Danny Graham.
The absolutely nadir of Lukaku’s season came in United’s home defeat to local rivals Manchester City. Failing to score from point-blank range, Lukaku was also at fault for both City goals. Needless to say, he took some stick, while at the same time, calls that the Belgian was flaccid against the biggest teams in the country was gaining traction.
Following the Manchester Derby in December, Lukaku had failed to score against any of the big 6. Prior to the arrival of Chelsea to Old Trafford in February, he had only scored 1 goal against sides in the top ten all season. Hardly the stuff of dreams.
The trust of a manager goes a long way though, and Jose Mourinho stuck by his striker, pointing out that Lukaku was taking on an incredible physical challenge for his side. Playing 90 minutes almost every game, Lukaku’s efforts were taking a physical toll and impacting on his performances.
But, as Mourinho pointed out, despite his downturn in form, his head had not dropped and he had not stopped working for his team, even if he did appear incapable of keeping hold of the ball once he had gotten it.
In assessing Lukaku’s relative fortunes through, any football fan will be able to tell you that form is temporary and class by contrast, is permanent. It should have come as no surprise therefore that Lukaku rediscovered his goal scoring form, bagging in back to back games against West Brom and Bournemouth, before beginning a run which has seen him so far score 10 in his last 14.
As part of that run Lukaku has become just the 8th United player to score 25 goals in his debut season. He scored against Chelsea, he scored in the Champions League, he grabbed a key goal in the comeback against Crystal Palace and he thoroughly emasculated Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren, also grabbing an assist in the win against Liverpool. Romelu, it seemed was back.
However, it remains difficult to judge Lukaku.
On the one hand, he has an inarguable goal scoring record and has managed to score semi-regularly in what has once again been a largely inept and impotent United side. But at the same time, and I mean that quite literally, Lukaku has regularly displayed all the subtlety of a town crier in a morgue.
One week a ball will bounce off his chest and go out for a throw in and the next week Lukaku will knock the ball 40 yards, blister past the opponent’s centre back and shoulder barge him into Row K just for good measure.
With goals Lukaku’s doubters can never raise their voices too loud, but even as he continues to put the ball in the back of the net for his new side, those voices of discontent will never be too far from breaking out into full grown cries.
Perhaps he is the victim of taste, playing with a style that looks ungainly even as he delivers exactly what is asked of him season after season, but in his first season at United the jury is well and truly out on Romelu Lukaku.
I hope he gets acquitted, but I’m not sure he will.
Written by Scott Pope
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