Romelu Lukaku was a player with quite a bit of promise in his early years. A product of Chelsea F.Cs expansive youth system, Romelu cut his teeth in the physicality of English football. With a towering 6’3 frame and over 200 pounds of muscle, he dominated back lines throughout his teenage years, and into senior football. After almost a decade in the English top-flight, Lukaku spent time in West Bromwich Albion, Everton, and finally at Manchester United. It wasn’t to be, it seemed. Despite a sound output of 42 goals in almost 100 games, Old Trafford’s fans never seemed to entirely warm to him. His touch, perhaps his main point of contention, riled up fans to no end.
Lukaku was a target man, forced to be a playmaking, hold-up striker. In the end, he was an expensive player that couldn’t fit into United’s plans. Ed Woodward and his team at Manchester sought to quickly shift Lukaku away, and recoup what little cash they could from the deal. After the agonising reality of Alexis Sanchez’s 300k-a-week wages for less than 10 goals in his United career, Lukaku left for Inter Milan as a markedly less costly, but albeit frustrating departure.
Since then, Lukaku has dominated Serie A. With 34 goals in 51 games in his debut season, he was clearly a player who didn’t fear the famously robust Italian defensive playing-style. He combined pace with power that left centre-half veterans chasing shadows and a killer instinct in front of goal that gave Milan the edge they needed. From set-plays, through-balls, or lobbed passes over the top, Lukaku was integral.
One of Lukaku’s major issues, at least back in his youth, was a perceived lack of defensive efforts. In the words of his manager, Antonio Conte, he was a rough diamond. Speaking to DAZN, Conte explained that he can get stronger with work and that he had the potential to become one of the best strikers in the world.
Conte went on to say that “He is on the right track, as he has everything, the physicality of a centre-forward, but also the pace and power of an American football quarterback.” Sitting deeper, almost a false-nine in the Inter Milan line-up allows Lukaku to share the burden of both attack and defence. The upside is that he can carry a team like Inter – one full of playmaking, dynamic attackers like Erikson and United alumnus Alexis Sanchez as a figurehead. It seems he simply needed to grow up a little on the pitch and share the two sides of the game to move forward.
His form hasn’t dipped in the current season. 12 goals in 13 games by December 2020 prove that he’s still not been figured out yet. As an out-and-out poacher, Romelu seems to have massive potential, even as he enjoys his peak at 27 years old. His performances are rubbing off on Milan’s prospects, too. Latest Serie A betting indicates Inter Milan are currently 8/11 to qualify for the final 16 in the Champions League. To reach anything beyond the quarter-finals would be considered a huge crescendo, and the pinnacle of their achievements if they could manage it.
Despite everything, he also managed to become Belgium’s leading scorer surpassing past records set by Bernard Voorhoof and Paul van Himst. He now sits at 57 for his nation. That’s the thing with Lukaku. For all his inconsistency, lack of a soft touch, and decision-making – criticisms that have dogged him most of his career – it seems that wherever he goes he manages to find the back of the net. He’s not someone who relies on having a team being built around him, nor does he need special treatment.
Ironically, he’s the exact sort of player United are now crying out for.