By 90Min
February 13, 2019

Having scored 226 professional goals, including 45 on the international stage for Belgium, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Manchester United Romelu Lukaku, signed for an eye watering fee of £75m, potentially rising to £90m, is regarded as one of the best forwards in the world.

After all, he is just 25. But drag yourself away from the statistics and the memories of a 19-year-old Lukaku bursting onto the Premier League scene with 17 goals during a season-long loan spell at West Brom, and you find a striker currently bereft off confidence and looking desperately out of place at the biggest club in English football, if not the world.

Saying that seems almost unfathomable, given the fact Lukaku has netted over 15 Premier League goals in five of the six full seasons he has completed in English football.

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But something has changed this season for the Belgian. Suddenly, one of the most physically imposing strikers - feared by most Premier League defences - is stuck on the sidelines, wondering where his next goal is coming from.


Some will blame Jose Mourinho for Lukaku's fall from grace, and some will blame the player. In truth, United were playing some of the most negative football ever seen in Manchester under Mourinho's stewardship and Lukaku was effectively burnt out by the Portuguese's reluctance to afford opportunities up front to Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial or even Alexis Sanchez.

Lukaku always played as a result, and he made 51 appearances last season at Old Trafford - more than he had ever played in before during a single season. Astonishingly, given his incredible workload, he scored a career high 27 goals in all competitions; though you would never believe that he had done so given the vast amount of criticism he received for his contributions.

The fact is, Lukaku almost breached the 30-goal barrier for what would have been only the 12th ever time in Manchester United's history. Only Ruud van Nistelrooy (three times), Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney (twice) and Robin van Persie have achieved that feat in the 21st century, and they were all part of sides that either won the Premier League title in that particular season, or came mighty close to doing so.

The only trophy United came close to winning last season was the FA Cup, and that's because Lukaku scored 5 goals en route to the final. Manchester City effortlessly wrapped up the Premier League title by 19 points, and the Red Devils were surprisingly dumped out of the Champions League in the last 16 by Sevilla. The goalscorer in their 2-1 second leg defeat? Lukaku.

But United's shortcomings were often pinned on Lukaku, with his lackadaisical first touch and disappearance from certain games blamed for the team's iffy results. He didn't fit the mould of striker that fans clamoured to see up front and for all the good that he did achieve, negativity often outweighed anything positive being said about him.

So after a successful World Cup finals with Belgium, in which Lukaku netted four goals to help his country finish in third place, he returned to Old Trafford with renewed optimism that a successful season lay ahead. The problem was that he had been afforded no time to physically recover from his exertions over the past 12 months.

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He was back in the deep end from minute one, and things have escalated from there. Tactical deficiencies and an unwillingness from Mourinho to adapt and change his management style saw Lukaku cut an isolated figure up front for United. A lack of movement and certainly a lack of confidence saw the powerful Belgian often caught out of position, and his impact in games dramatically diminished as a result.

It wasn't pretty to watch, and granted, Lukaku has elements of his game that he must continue to work on. He did cost United £75m after all. But he hasn't become a bad player, he just hasn't been playing in a side whose style of football allows him to bully defences like he has previously done so.


At the same time, United shouldn't compromise their principles in order to accommodate Lukaku. But with Mourinho's reign now very much in the rear view mirror at Old Trafford, there is opportunity for change at Old Trafford - opportunity for positivity and turning a corner. Interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to be providing that platform, and the feel good factor is back. People are believing again.

OLI SCARFF/GettyImages

The next step is for Lukaku to believe again. Marcus Rashford may be stealing the limelight for now, but the attacking intent shown once more by United can only stand Lukaku in good stead for the future. He has all the attributes needed to succeed at the highest level, which he's proven already by scoring 109 Premier League goals.

He's good enough for United, he's good enough to be starting and he's good enough to establish himself as a regular goalscorer at Old Trafford. Now he just needs to be given the chance to get back in the groove, start running defences ragged and remind clubs and down the country just how dangerous he really is.

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