FOOTBALL | O Romelu, Romelu, wherefore art thou Romelu?

Football

“It was a tough decision to leave Everton… but I’m excited to be joining a club as big as Manchester United. I feel this can only improve my career, playing with top players in top competitions like the Champions League and I can’t wait to meet up with the team.”

These were the words of Wayne Rooney upon signing for Manchester United in August 2004, though I imagine we will soon be reading a similarly worded statement from United’s latest marquee signing, Romelu Lukaku. We can only hope Paul Pogba convinces Lukaku to ‘dab’ during the obligatory jersey-holding photo-op.

The peculiar talent exchange between Manchester United and Everton seems to continue as if it’s some sort of vindictive attempt to ruffle the feathers of the Liver Bird, a common enemy.

Over the years we have seen Tim Howard, Phil Neville, Jesper Blomqvist, Louis Saha, Darron Gibson, and most recently Morgan Schneiderlin move from Old Trafford to Goodison Park. Looking back even further, Andrei Kanchelskis and Norman Whiteside also moved directly from United to Everton.

In return, United welcomed Wayne Rooney with open arms and he has been arguably the best signing of any English club since the turn of the millennium. They also signed half-footballer, half-Muay Thai enthusiast Marouane Fellaini from the Toffees at the beginning of David Moyes’ short-lived reign.

Of course, the ‘value for money’ argument tends to lean towards players who cost pittance rather than eight-figure sums, but United have wrung every last drop out of the £25m they paid for Rooney in 2004. He has won many trophies, entertained audiences of millions the world over, and his 253 goals in all competitions is a club record – one which is likely to stand for as long as Bobby Charlton’s did previously.

Enter Romelu Lukaku.

The big Belgian, who signed his first professional contract with Anderlecht on his 16th birthday, was conscripted by Chelsea in 2011.

Still a raw talent, despite two good seasons in the Belgian Pro League, the Londoners loaned him to West Brom where he performed well given his inexperience with the Premier League at that point, and performed extremely well given his surroundings.

Still unconvinced, Chelsea loaned him for a second season – this time to Everton – where he again performed very well. Despite showing his goal-scoring capabilities with two very different teams in consecutive seasons, Chelsea felt him surplus to requirements and sent him north permanently in 2014 for £28m.

Since then, in his total of four seasons at Everton (one on loan) he has become their all-time Premier League top scorer with 68 goals, eclipsing Duncan Ferguson – Everton cult hero and dream-fight opponent for the aforementioned Marouane Fellaini.

The comparisons between Lukaku and Drogba still persist, but for how much longer? Lukaku has 85 Premier League goals in total and is 24 years old; Drogba only made his way to the Premier League by the age of 26. Lukaku should easily overtake Drogba’s Premier League goal tally of 104 goals, possibly by the end of the upcoming season if things start to really click at United.

If, like Rooney, he stays at United for 10 or more seasons, could we be looking at a potential new record-breaker for the Red Devils? The Belgian’s game is not based on blistering acceleration and dogged persistence like Rooney’s.

Lukaku could enjoy longevity akin to Zlatan Ibrahimović, and we all saw how the elder Swede’s talent and poise contributed to United’s success last season.

The choice of Manchester United for Lukaku has an additional layer of intrigue, seeing as the current manager – José Mourinho – is the same man who allowed him to leave Chelsea for Everton in 2014.

This raises the question: was it Mourinho who simply did not want to keep Lukaku in any capacity at Chelsea at that time, or were the higher-ups and cheque-signers at Chelsea keen to make a quick profit on a player they had bought three years previously?

It might save Chelsea some face that they did not buy back yet another player they previously sold, particularly with the £75m figure which is being reported for Lukaku’s move to Manchester United. Lukaku at least has some prior experience with Mourinho which may have influenced his decision to join United rather than return to Chelsea.

In this instance, the Red Devil you know is better than the Devil you don’t.

NEIL CARAHER
European Football Correspondent

 

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