Lukaku admits he's not yet the finished article for United

WASHINGTON • If Zlatan Ibrahimovic, his predecessor in the Manchester United No. 9 shirt, liked to portray himself as the supreme centre forward, Romelu Lukaku prefers a blunter form of self-assessment.

When invited on Monday to draw comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski, prolific scorers in the Champions League, he pronounced himself "far from that level".

Judging by his comments in an interview with British newspapers in Washington DC on Monday, on the latest leg of United's American pre-season tour, he is aware that he has more rough edges to his game than might be expected of a player who will cost United a minimum £75 million (S$132 million) transfer fee.

He also expressed a belief that Jose Mourinho, who sold him three years ago, is the manager to smooth them down.

"I have improved a lot," Lukaku said, recalling the player he was at Chelsea when he was loaned by Mourinho to Everton at the age of 20 and then sold to the same club a year later. "He (Mourinho) sees it as well, but I still have more improvement."

In Premier League terms, Lukaku is a proven scorer: 85 goals in the past five seasons.

In that respect, he appears a safer bet than Alvaro Morata, who Chelsea signed from Real Madrid for an initial £58 million after being beaten to Lukaku's signature.

Morata, however, has scored big goals in the tournament for Juventus and Real, while Lukaku's only Champions League experiences came in the play-off round as a teenager at Anderlecht.

When asked whether he can score consistently in the Champions League, like Ronaldo and Lewandowki, the Belgium forward was honest about the need, at 24, to prove that he can make the step up.

"I have always scored goals, even in Europe; my record in the Europa League is really good," he said. "Now I think the Champions League is the next stage where I have to prove myself."

Is he already at that level?

"No, no, no," he said. "I'm far from that level... I can't say I'm the complete package. I can't say I'm in my prime. I always want to be better."

While Lukaku will try to make an immediate impact in Europe's elite club competition, team-mate Eric Bailly will have to wait for his Champions League debut.

The Ivorian centre-back will miss the first match of United's return to the Champions League in September after being given a three-match ban by Uefa.

The 23-year-old was sent off in May's Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo and missed the Europa League final victory against Ajax through suspension.

Bailly will also be unavailable for United's Super Cup clash with Real Madrid on Aug 8.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2017, with the headline 'Lukaku admits he's not yet the finished article for United'. Print Edition | Subscribe