When Manchester United signed Romelu Lukaku for £75 million last summer there were plenty of critics who claimed that he was a waste of money.
Rival fans mocked his first touch, journalists questioned his intelligence as a forward, but Mourinho was delighted with the transfer business the club had done.
“I think we were very clever,” Mourinho said in September. “We thought that something could happen that could change the market forever. After Neymar everything changed — and for the worse in terms of prices. I think Lukaku on August 31 would have been £150 million.”
For months, United had been linked with a move for Alvaro Morata, while Antonio Conte had his eye on Lukaku. Then, without warning, the Belgian was announced as a United player.
Many claimed that Chelsea had got the better deal when spending £60 million on the former Real Madrid and Juventus striker. Yet as the season has progressed, Lukaku has proven his worth.
As it stands, Lukaku has scored 10 more goals than Morata in all competitions, including the opening goal in United’s 2-1 win over Chelsea last weekend. The Belgian has now scored and assisted 30 goals in 40 appearances, which is a very healthy return.
However, much was made of this goal being Lukaku’s first in a big game, discounting the goal he scored against Real Madrid in the Super Cup final. Despite being involved in the lead up to goals in matches against the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, he’d yet to get his name on the scoresheet against a top six club before Sunday. This is a criticism that has been thrown at the striker throughout his career.
However, when you consider that he’s yet to spend six full seasons in England, his goals against top sides is fairly impressive.
He’s scored five against both Manchester City and Liverpool, as well as three against Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, and one against Spurs. The 20 goals he’s scored against the best sides in the country look even better when you consider the vast majority of them have been for midtable teams, at Everton and West Brom.
For comparison, in five years at United, Ruud van Nistelrooy scored fewer goals against the same clubs, some from the penalty spot, and with some of the best midfielders in the world creating chances for him.
In the Premier League, Lukaku has scored 98 goals in 213 games, which is a fantastic record for a 24-year-old.
Presuming he scores another two goals before the end of the season, he will be the fifth youngest player to join the 100 club after Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane.
“I started playing when I was 16. Year in, year out people expect 20 goals from me,” Lukaku said after the win over Chelsea. “I’ve been doing it for 10 years straight, so I think I’ve proved myself. You expect a bit more respect but it’s the situation we’re in. I don’t listen to it. I just want to improve and show the people what I can do on the pitch.”
Maybe the lack of respect for Lukaku comes from his decision to sign for Everton following his big club move to Chelsea as an 18-year-old. Maybe that lowered people’s expectations of him. His agent, Mino Raiola, claimed that Lukaku never would have joined the Merseyside club if he had been representing the striker at the time.
“If we had met each other earlier, he wouldn’t have played for Everton,” Raiola said in 2015. “Maybe somewhere else, maybe he would still be at Chelsea. I want to be clear: Romelu is a better striker than Diego Costa and could have done the same as the Spaniard did this season. But the Chelsea directors had decided to buy another star than giving confidence to one of their young boys. Later on, he’ll play for one of world’s best teams: PSG, Manchester United of Bayern Munich. Big names, but nothing is impossible as Rom has great potential.”
Yet if anything the fact that Lukaku managed to score so many goals when playing for teams that didn’t have world-class players behind him proves his quality.
The striker is still rough around the edges and has areas of his game to work on, but he’s committed to doing just that. He watches footage of top strikers all the time to see areas of their game which he can mimic.
But to dismiss him as a flat-track bully, as many do, is doing Lukaku is great disservice. People will continue to underestimate him but in the end their opinion matters little. If he continues to score at the rate he has done so far then he’s going to have an incredible career.