Why it’s time to stop criticizing Romelu Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku has made his critics eat their own words
Love them or loathe them, there is no denying that stereotypes have become an integral part of our everyday life, including the way we perceive a footballer’s attributes. And while it could also be said that we can't-do without making generalizations, even in sports, the thing about such perceptions is that seldom do they tell us the whole story about a player.
In football, for instance, a striker's physicality and his finishing are at times glorified to the extent that they begin to overshadow the other qualities he depicts on the pitch. Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku is someone who has certainly faced the brunt of this perception for a long time.
Looks can be deceptive
Ever since stepping onto the pitch for the very first time, the 24-year-old has drawn acclaim for being a sheer physical presence on the field and his ability to manhandle opposition defences along with his finishing prowess.
In fact, some were so preoccupied with Lukaku’s physical stature that they often criticized him for lacking the other necessities to be a successful striker, i.e. finishing, technique, first touch, and ball control.
But, the Belgian has forced the pundits to rethink their views after making a roaring start to the Premier League season.
However, this hasn’t been an easy task for Lukaku as his physical features were so prominent that they initially earned him a move to Chelsea from Anderlecht in 2011 as the Blues saw the Belgian the ‘next Didier Drogba’.
But as things turned out for the youngster at Chelsea, he wasn't destined to be the new king of Stamford Bridge as he made only eight appearances for the Blues in his debut season. The following season, the marksman played the UEFA Super Cup against Bayern Munich but went on to miss the deciding penalty in the shootout against the German club.
In a way, this would prove to be Lukaku’s most telling contribution for the Roman Abramovic-owned side as it was seen as an indicator of the fact that he wasn’t a big game player like Drogba.
The lack of playing time in West London subsequently led to a loan spell at West Brom in 2013, where he began to show his eye for goal as he managed 17 goals in 35 Premier League appearances for the Baggies.
After this loan spell, Lukaku continued to make a name for himself as he consistently found the back of the net for Everton, first as a loanee from Chelsea and then as one of their most expensive signings.
But throughout the Belgian’s goal-scoring run, most of the footballing pundits continued to maintain their impression of him as merely someone who is predominantly ‘strong and powerful’ and in doing so they blatantly overlooked some other crucial aspects of his overall game.
As far as Lukaku himself was concerned though, he continued to go about his usual business of finding the back of the net, and it eventually resulted in earning him a big money move to Manchester United as he joined the Red Devils for a fee of £75 million in the recently concluded transfer window.
Ever since his move to Old Trafford, the new United no.9 has continued to score goals for fun as he has now managed 11 goals in 10 appearances for his new club.
Having established himself as one of the most prolific strikers in the world during his time at Everton, there were a few clubs vying for the Belgian’s signature including his former employers, Chelsea.
But, one of the biggest reasons why Lukaku moved to United from Everton was the opportunity to play with a better quality of players, which in turn would enhance his chances of winning titles.
More importantly, moving to a club like United also meant that what he brought to United along with his goals would be acknowledged and appreciated like never before.
What Lukaku brings to Manchester United
While scoring goals has become a customary thing for Lukaku at United, as far as the football ‘experts’ are concerned, it’s also proof of the fact that he more than a physical beast on the pitch.
Most of the goals that the towering forward has scored so far this season, have been down to attributes of his game that have rarely been appreciated owing to the overemphasis on the other obvious aspects.
For instance, against West Ham on the opening day of the Premier League season, he displayed immaculate movement and pace to sweep home United’s first goal on the counter-attack after being played in by Marcus Rashford.
The former Chelsea man then showcased his innate finishing ability as he headed home Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s cross from a freekick.
But Lukaku’s game isn’t just about goals these days as he showed against Swansea in the second game week. After scoring United’s second goal, he displayed his much talked about ‘brute strength’ to hold the ball up and release Paul Pogba for United’s third goal.
The following week, United’s target man once again displayed his awareness and agility as he scored against Stoke City, and against Everton, two weeks ago, he put in his best league performance of the season by first showing the awareness to play Mkhitaryan in United’s second goal and went on to add one himself thanks to his innate striker’s instinct and he did an encore to seal an important win against Southampton last week.
Ready for the big stage
The other reason why Lukaku moved to United was to play in the UEFA Champions League and he has taken to the competition like a fish to water. Apart from the three goals he has scored in two matches in the competition so far, what’s has been very evident is the enviable instant understanding he has formed with his new teammates.
For instance, Lukaku's ‘footballing bromance’ with Anthony Martial was clearly evident on Wednesday night against CSKA Moscow as Martial helped Lukaku to a brace with a pair of assists as the duo tore apart the Russian club’s defence.
The duo also continued their respective flying starts to the season as the Frenchman helped the Belgian to yet another goal as United romped past Crystal Palace 4-0 yesterday.
While a lot has been made about the fact that United were handed an easy fixture list in the early stages of the Premier League and a relatively straightforward Champions League group as well, one cannot overlook the fact that Jose Mourinho’s side have made a flying start to their 2017-18 campaign on both fronts, and a major part of United’s early dominance is down to what Lukaku has added to United.
Not only has the Belgian single-handedly lifted the club, his addition has also improved the other players in the team and thereby the overall quality of the squad itself.
But perhaps the biggest satisfaction for the Belgian will come from the fact that he has turned his critics into his admirers by displaying all the attributes they said he did not possess.