Commentary

Powerful forward will be a good fit for United

Romelu Lukaku has been an obvious transfer target ever since he turned down the lucrative contract Everton offered him in March, yet when reports began to emerge that Manchester United were confident of a £75 million (S$133.4 million) deal it still came as something of a surprise.

Chelsea had been thought favourites to sign him, for a start.

Many at Everton believed a return to Stamford Bridge was on the cards, and when Lukaku gave his reasons for stalling on a new deal at Goodison - "I don't want to stay at the same level, I want to improve and I know where I want to do that" - it seemed reasonable to assume that the club now managed so impressively by Antonio Conte was the one he had in mind.

If so, especially as Conte may have played a part in edging Diego Costa towards the door, Chelsea could be embarrassed if United manage to tie up a deal for Lukaku.

Costa will not be staying, Chelsea need a scorer and United seem to believe they have signed a reliable one for considerably less than the £100 million Everton were asking.

Should Lukaku turn up in red and not blue at the start of the season, Jose Mourinho will have put one over his successor as Chelsea manager before a ball has been kicked. Of course, it is hard to dress up a fee of £75 million as any sort of bargain, though in the present climate Lukaku is probably worth it. He scored 25 Premier League goals last season, he is only 24 years old and at his best he can terrorise defences through sheer physical presence and power.

He is not exactly a new Didier Drogba but he is a close approximation, and for a coach like Mourinho who likes to play with a big, obvious target at the front, he was always going to be of interest once Zlatan Ibrahimovic was ruled out.

For a coach like Mourinho who likes to play with a big, obvious target at the front, he was always going to be of interest once Zlatan Ibrahimovic was ruled out.

The Swede was hugely successful at Old Trafford last season though his game is based on anticipation, timing and getting on the end of things. There were times last season, even with Ibrahimovic up front, when United became bogged down through a shortage of creativity in midfield.

Lukaku is not a remedy for that, though he is the type of player who can produce something unexpected when he receives the ball, even in unpromising situations.

He can make things happen, often on his own, and once he finally makes the step up to a club in the Champions League bracket, his confidence will only improve if he can establish himself as the main point of attack.

At that level he will be tested as never before, and after three years spent as the big fish in a relatively small pool at Everton he will have to stand comparison with some of the best strikers in the world.

He is not as quick as Kylian Mbappe or as unstoppable as Luis Suarez, and perhaps he does not possess the all-round game of a centre-forward such as Robert Lewandowski.

Yet, Lukaku is four years younger than the unsettled Bayern Munich player, he can score with both feet and is strong in the air, and there is plenty of time and scope for further improvement.

Lukaku is at his best with the ball at his feet, running at defenders and more often than not making inroads through his pace and control. The possibility of him linking up with players of the calibre of Juan Mata and Paul Pogba is quite an exciting one.

Lukaku probably knew all along he would be faced with a choice between his former club and his former manager. Contrary to reports suggesting the parting from Mourinho at Chelsea was acrimonious, the pair have retained respect for each other over the past three years.

Mourinho said at the time that Lukaku aged 20 was not ready to be Chelsea's first-choice striker, and Lukaku aged 24 has accepted the wisdom of that.

"Choices were made by me, not by them (the Chelsea hierarchy)," the player has said. "Three years ago I was not ready, but several good seasons have changed the situation."

Everton have been principal beneficiaries of those seasons, and they stand to make a handsome profit on a player they signed for £28 million but always accepted they had little chance of keeping indefinitely. Everyone will gain, in fact, except the club or clubs that end up missing out.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2017, with the headline 'Powerful forward will be a good fit for United'. Print Edition | Subscribe