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Romelu Lukaku and his unending battle against public perception

Lukaku

“Mum, it’s gonna change. You’ll see. I’m going to play football for Anderlecht, and it’s going to happen soon. We’ll be good. You won’t have to worry anymore. It was going to happen. Period.”


From signing for Manchester United for an astronomical fee of £75 million to facing the sidelines for a better part of a season under two different managers, the Belgian has had a roller coaster of a season. Ranging from getting scrutinised by his own fans and sitting on the bench under the tutelage of a former Manchester United striker to being back in the goals in the business end of the season; We’re just glad to see that Lukaku’s got his touch back.

It’s common knowledge that goals are a striker’s currency, and if you aren’t scoring the goals as a striker, you’re bound to miss out on playing time. Especially when you have got an embarrassment of riches in attack, as Manchester United do.  It’s a testament to the big Belgian’s quality, that he has held his own for the better part of a season in his two-year stint at United.

The 6’3″ striker had a glowing resumé even before he set foot in Manchester, thereby warranting a 75 million pound deal making him the 2nd most expensive signing in the Premier League and in his new club, who had already forked out 89 million pounds on Paul Pogba a season ago. Scoring 85 goals by the age of 23 in the Premier League does that to you. By the time he scored his 25th goal in the league for Everton, it was evident that the striker was a large fish in a small pond intent on securing a move away from the club, for whom he had scored exactly a century of goals across all competitions.

Lukaku
via Goal

The Belgian international started his career in Anderlecht at the tender age of 16, where he scored on his debut. The player ended the season on a high, winning both, the Belgian Pro League and the prize for being the top scorer. Not too bad for a 16-year-old kid in his debut season.  His performances merited the Belgian Ebony Shoe, which was a sign of only the start of brighter things to come. A move to Chelsea soon came about and the club snapped up the talented striker, much as they did with players like Kevin de Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois in the 2011/2012 season.

This influx of huge talent for the West Londoners was not unheard of; the club would often pluck talents and send them elsewhere to prosper and develop out on loan. The striker faced the same obstacles as the other players on loan and failed to cement a place in the Chelsea eleven behind iconic strikers like Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres. He went on loan to fellow Premier League clubs West Bromwich Albion and Everton, where he scored 32 goals in 66 appearances for both the clubs.  His startling performances for Everton forced the club to break the bank for the sensational young player. It was clear big things were to follow for the left-footed striker.

And they did.

On 10th July 2017, the biggest club in England came calling with an offer Romelu just couldn’t refuse. The United number 9 had a lot to live up to, certainly with the standards and quality of the strikers that they have had in the past. The likes of Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Dimitar Berbatov and most recently the Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic had been lighting up the Theatre of Dreams for the last decade or so. The club and manager felt best that a tried, tested and proven Premier League player with an outstanding Premier League record would be the right choice to take up the mantle, and there were few better than the 23-year-old Romelu Lukaku.

Much has been said about his performances in the red of Manchester United for the last two seasons.

After a fiery start to the 2017/18 season, Lukaku looked well worth the money and was flourishing under Jose Mourinho. The Red Devils were joint top, 8 games into the Premier League season, inspired by huge performances from their big players such as Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic.

The Reds dropped points in late October to their bitter rivals Liverpool and soon after to Huddersfield Town. The bright spark and the cohesion among their best players started to fade away and as a result, they couldn’t catch the runaway champions Manchester City since.

An injury here and a setback there for the squad meant that the club could no longer rely on individual brilliance such as the ones from Pogba and Lukaku, who could never seem to replicate the form on display at the start of the season.

Lukaku
Via FourFourTwo

The number 9 has continued his performances in a similar manner – labelled as erratic over the 2 seasons, the forward has had very few goalscoring runs of form in his time in Manchester.

There is a widely misconstrued image formed around the striker’s first season at United, the one in which many fans took the liberty of labelling him as the ’75 million flop’. However, facts tell otherwise, the Belgian international had a tally of 16 goals in a season in 34 appearances in the Premier League; It is an opinion that has been perpetuated by fans who expect strikers to score against big team consistently and it seems that is simply not Lukaku’s forte.

Ever since his Everton days, Lukaku has always had a problem against matches of huge magnitude, say a local rivalry or a high stakes game. The forward is the perfect example of a flat track bully, who can be expected to be in the goals for a game against Bournemouth, but at the same time can gather complete unanimity among the fans to not expect anything of him against a team like Manchester City or Liverpool.

Poor record or not, no one can ever take away his outstanding goal tally. Currently standing at 113 Premier League goals in 247 appearances, the striker is in an elite club of only 28 goalscorers to reach 100+ goals in the league. Equal on goals with the legendary Ian Wright who only entered the newly formed Premier League at the age of 28, the number 9 will have United legend, Wayne Rooney in his crosshairs as he attempts to cross the 200 goal mark by the end of his career  

It is surely a possible feat, with the striker still only 25, it would be safe to assume that he has got at least another 60-70 goals in him till the end of his career in England’s top flight. Also on a similar record, is Tottenham striker and England Captain Harry Kane. Both players have been at the biggest stages early on into their careers and have shown great maturity in their budding years.

Public opinion records that lifelong Spurs player Harry Kane has had a better career so far than Manchester United’s Lukaku, even though the latter is only 10 weeks his senior. While one is touted as one of the finest strikers of the generation, the other is labelled as a signing Manchester United could have done without.

Eerily similar records to one who has shown incredible promise and is one of the most highly regarded footballers of the England National Team just shows how underappreciated Lukaku has been. The Belgian has been silently racking up the numbers for too long now.

Lukaku
Harry Kane has 147 goal contributions in 179 Premier League appearances, whereas Lukaku has 155 goal contributions in 247 Premier League appearances. Despite registering such impressive numbers relative to Harry Kane’s figures, Lukaku receives heavy unwarranted criticism in the English media and amongst fan groups on social media via Premier League

It could just be the ‘English bias’ toward their captain, or it could also be that Lukaku has dug his own grave in that aspect. The United player has not been the most clinical finisher around, and if there’s one thing you do not want fans to notice, it’s your striker missing easy chances. Still, the fact remains, both the players are in a similar position in their careers with similar numbers in their game, yet Lukaku is the one who needs to up his game.

There aren’t many players who could hold up the ball like Lukaku. It’s no surprise that his physicality is his biggest asset. The player has used his frame to his advantage ever since he was a kid, revealing in an interview that he always looked too big for his age and that it was a normal occurrence that he had to show his identification to the other concerned parents of the kids he played against.

The modern number 9 has a very different job to that of an orthodox number 9, whose job is to poach and capitalise on any and every chance presented to him Mauro Icardi- For instance). Lukaku is something of an anomaly- although the towering centre forward has the body and structure like that of a traditional number 9, the player has never been a target man for United. Nor has he been one to help out his team by defending and dropping deep and creating pressure on the opposition.

Lukaku has scored a variety of goals. Being comfortable on either foot and an excellent header of the ball are some of his best qualities; not to say that there aren’t any shortcomings- the former Anderlecht man is frequently criticised for his poor first touch, giving the ball away cheaply while trying to get it under control is something which the fans particularly don’t enjoy watching.

The striker does possess a unique skill set, he is surprisingly quick, is a very good dribbler of the ball and his general game awareness is better than that of some creative midfielders.

Rewinding back to July, deep into clutch time. Japan had almost successfully held Belgium a 2-2 draw in the quarterfinal of the FIFA World Cup until Belgium initiated a  counter-attack and Romelu Lukaku was the chief orchestrator. Excellently utilising the open spaces to push the defenders onto the flank, thereby creating space in the middle of the park, the top scorer deceived the Japanese defence and had a vital role to play in the dying embers of the game, where he had the presence to leave the ball for Nacer Chadli, who slotted it into the net to make it 3-2.

Lukaku
Lukaku was instrumental in the build-up to Belgium’s winner against Japan in 2nd round of the World Cup via Independent.ie

His vision and the ability to read the play for a striker is second to none. His astute awareness and tactical nous were just as important as the actual goal for Belgium to progress into the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup.

The forward also became the top scorer of the Belgium National Team at the age of 24. Twenty four. Scoring 45 goals in 79 appearances for The Red Devils of Belgium, the striker has thrived under his former Everton manager Roberto Martinez, now the head coach of Belgium. Scoring 4 goals for Martinez’ side in the World Cup led to a third-place finish for the Golden Boot behind Antoine Griezmann and the aforementioned Harry Kane.

Now settling into the newly refurbished Manchester United side under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Lukaku has picked up his form and will be hoping to continue in the same regard. The treble-winning Norwegian has laid out a challenge for the 10th most expensive player of all time; to step up and prove himself or risk losing a starting place in the squad with Marcus Rashford hot on his heels to try and cement a place in the starting lineup 

At only 25 years of age, Romelu Lukaku has a lot to offer and add to his already incredible tally of 194 goals and 69 assists. It is only a matter of time before he seals his status as a Premier League legend.


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Feature image via besthqwallpapers.com


 

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