It was hard not to imagine what Romelu Lukaku could have been at Manchester United when he saw him last season.
Lukaku was brilliant with Inter Milan and was successful under Antonio Conte. Lukaku has scored 30 goals in 44 appearances across all competitions – Erling Haaland, Robert Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo were the only other strikers in the world to work at this level – and single-handedly propelled Inter to the 11-year Scudetto for the club.
When Lukaku replaced Goodison Park for Old Trafford in 2017, it was hoped his goals would help end the Reds’ Premier League title hunt, but that won’t work for Lukaku in Manchester. There weren’t many goals, titles, or successes.
There has been an ups and downs relationship with Jose Mourinho, with disappointments and doubts about his physical condition.
Lukaku arrived at United for £75m and his first season at the club was satisfactory for a player who charged such fees. He played 33 Premier League games in that campaign and became one of Mourinho’s players.
Soon there will be troubles in heaven. United started the 2018/19 season slowly and Lukaku was no exception, scoring just six goals in his first 16 Premier League games. He was also goalless in the Champions League group stage and looked weak when he had a flaw on the field. Mourinho had invested in Lukaku and the player’s poor quality was somewhat symbolic.
Mourinho’s era was coming to an end and he was failing to get the best out of his players. Liverpool’s account was his – ironically, it should have been the same for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer years later – but his departure wasn’t necessarily good news for Lukaku.
Solskjaer preferred Marcus Rashford over Lukaku and the Belgian had to settle for a lesser role, although he often took his chances when they were given them, but Lukaku was not the player United thought they were buying and the inevitable loomed.
Inter Milan was interested and Lukaku wanted to leave. The deal was sealed for £73m, United almost got their money back and the episode ended. Lukaku left with 42 goals in 96 appearances, but it was hard not to consider his time at the club disappointing.
Then Lukaku exploded at Inter Milan where hopefully he would be at Old Trafford. His strength and natural ability to punish sides from the smallest openings made him a killer and prolific asset in Italy and he emphatically rediscovered his best form.
The striker also looked graceful and athletic. The difference in his performance and mentality from his time at United was stark. Lukaku also excelled in the European Championship, and this was followed by his move to Chelsea after the tournament.
Lukaku has been in the shape of his life – he scored 64 goals in 95 appearances for Inter – and was joining one of the Reds’ biggest rivals in the Premier League. It would have been a disaster for United, but it was just the opposite.
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The Belgian has since failed upon his return to the Premier League, scoring just three goals in the league this season under Thomas Tuchel. Lukau has been seen on the bench at Chelsea more than he has been seen scoring goals and that’s good news for United.
Inter Milan’s Lukaku’s performance at Chelsea would have made those inside United look on with regret.
Instead, Lukaku plays as if he were at United and might not be the same player in the Premier League.