Ian Wright thinks he knows why Manchester United failed to get the best out of Romelu Lukaku during his two years at Old Trafford.
The Belgian striker joined in 2017 after a big-money switch from Everton, although despite a decent first season he found himself regularly criticised and wasn’t a match for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s preferred system when the manager was initially appointed on an interim basis.
He scored 28 goals in 66 Premier League games.
This season he became a true star at Inter Milan, winning the Serie A under Antonio Conte, and he netted two goals in Belgium’s opening game at EURO2020.
I had a feeling Lukaku’s performances this summer were going to lead to questions about why United never quite saw that side of Lukaku – expect we did, in his first season at the club. There was quite a lot to be promised by after Lukaku became a Red but his game worsened and he looked completely out of shape.
It’s great that things are working out for him now but he wanted to leave United, who were right to sell him on at that point in time.
Jose Mourinho, who brought Lukaku to United, recently told The Times (H/t MEN): “These two years at Inter Milan have given him the stature and the self-confidence that he didn’t have before. At Chelsea, he was still a kid. At Manchester United, he was still developing. At Inter he became the top man.
“He became loved – a big love from the supporters, love from teammates, great relations with the coach.
“He’s a big guy, physically so strong, but there is also a kid inside who needs that love, needs that support, needs to feel important.”
It feels bizarre reading that and knowing they are quotes from Mourinho, who wasn’t able to fully support his players during his spell in charge when the dressing room was at a real low point.
However, former Arsenal star Ian Wright believes the type of game Lukaku was asked to play was to blame for him not showing his best form at Old Trafford.
“Me and Roy Keane were having a discussion about why Lukaku is now the player we’re seeing he is, and why he wasn’t that player at Man United,” Wright said on his podcast.
“The fact that he had to play up front 50 per cent of the time on his own, spaces he wanted to occupy [were filled] whether that’s by Rashford or Martial.
“If he drops deep like we saw him in the game on Saturday, where he got the ball and freight-trained, he does that.
“At Man United he didn’t have that. He was the furthest forward, back to goal.
“That is not what Lukaku is about, Lukaku is roaming from wing to wing in that area between lines, where they’re pushing forward but have a couple of defenders back and he’s just loitering.
“He’s just loitering to the point that when you see him there…that’s danger.”
He added: “I said when Romelu Lukaku left here [the Premier League], he left here with people waving him away like, “You’re a joke player, see you later!’, that was the vibe and you look at him now and he looks terrifying.”
Lukaku was not what United needed at the time. Sure – he’s probably a better player now, but we’ve got Edinson Cavani for another season and Mason Greenwood is getting better.