Romelu Lukaku: Why has striker left Manchester United for Inter Milan?

By Emlyn BegleyBBC Sport
Romelu Lukaku
Lukaku (centre) was part of United's pre-season tour of Australia and the Far East, but did not play

A better goalscoring season than Eric Cantona ever managed but no trophies. Consistency only Sergio Aguero could match but unloved by fans.

Romelu Lukaku's move from Everton to Manchester United was much hyped but just two years later he has left for Inter Milan for £74m, a loss of £1m.

That ended a summer-long saga where he missed all of United's pre-season friendlies.

He tweeted confidential sprinting stats, trained with his old club Anderlecht and was then fined for missing United training. On top of that United had tried to swap the Belgian for Juventus' Paulo Dybala and don't seem bothered about signing a replacement.

So why has he gone to Inter Milan? Was his time at United a failure?

'It is so important for Lukaku to feel loved'

Lukaku was brought in to United by Jose Mourinho but did not appear part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's plans. He now links up with Inter boss Antonio Conte and will play outside England for the first time since leaving Anderlecht for Chelsea in 2011.

Belgian football journalist Kristof Terreur said on BBC Radio 5 Live's Friday Football Daily: "Since March he has been clear he wanted to leave Manchester United. After Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed permanently he wanted to go.

"He didn't feel the confidence he felt before from Mourinho. Mourinho encouraged him to come to United and convinced him to go to United, not his boyhood club Chelsea.

"Lukaku has always been mentioning playing in Italy. Maybe it is because his brother [Lazio left-back Jordan] plays there too. He and his brother have always been inseparable as kids.

"I have always thought they [Lukaku and Conte] would be the perfect match."

French journalist Julien Laurens said: "He got a bit naughty, like he did with the sprinting stats that showed him to be the second fastest. Lukaku is a good guy but he can be naughty when things are not going his way.

"For someone like him it is so important to feel loved and have people at the club behind him. The big welcome he got at Milan airport must have meant so much to him."

Is he judged unfairly?

Romelu Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku is the third top scorer in the Premier League since his breakthrough season with West Brom in 2012

Part of Lukaku's problem was the high expectations following a £75m move that made him the joint-fifth most expensive transfer ever at the time.

He was only the fourth player to score 80 goals in the Premier League before turning 24 - after Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Wayne Rooney. Those goals all came for West Brom and Everton, having failed to score for Chelsea in a few cameos.

That was after scoring 33 Belgian top-flight goals for Anderlecht, including winning the Golden Boot at the age of 16 in 2009-10. The Belgian title he won that year remains his only major trophy.

"I think he'll fit well. He's got the temperament to handle the big situations," former Everton midfielder Leon Osman told BBC Sport at the time.

"He's a big character off the pitch. He does believe in himself. He has a big self-confidence. He got criticised at times at Everton for not tracking back, but Manchester United won't have an issue with that."

Romelu Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku scored 11 goals in his first 10 United games in August and September 2017 - however that would end up being over a quarter of his goals for the club

In goalscoring terms his time at United did not go badly - although he leaves England without winning a single trophy.

Lukaku scored 27 and 15 goals in his two seasons with United. Of the other strikers at Old Trafford, Marcus Rashford's highest total in a season is 13. Anthony Martial's best campaign was 17 goals - but that was back in 2015-16, when he first joined the club.

In his debut season, Lukaku became one of only 11 United players to hit 25 goals or more in a campaign since 1992-93. Cantona, Andy Cole and current manager Solskjaer (25 each) are among the strikers who never matched Lukaku's 27-goal tally in a United campaign. Lukaku has also scored at least 10 goals in each of the past seven Premier League seasons - Manchester City striker Aguero is the only player to have matched that run.

However 26% of his United goals - 11 out of 42 - came in the first two months of his Old Trafford career.

Most goals scored by a Manchester United player in a season in all competitions (since 1992-93)
Most goals scored by a Manchester United player in a season in all competitions (since 1992-93)

Does his playing style count against him?

When Lukaku joined United under Jose Mourinho, the manager's tactics appeared to suit the big Belgian in that first 27-goal season.

Following Solskjaer's appointment in December, his nine goals came in two three-game bursts, including a spell of playing on the wing.

He netted against Bournemouth, Newcastle and Reading around the new year. And then scored doubles in successive games against Crystal Palace, Southampton and Paris St-Germain in late February and early March.

Lukaku missed the last two games of the season and did not feature once in pre-season because of injuries - although some media reports suggest he had already recovered and was just being left out.external-link

Solskjaer has a clear idea how he wants United to play this season. He plans to use three attacking midfielders behind a centre forward - and wants them all to have pace and the ability to interchange.

That approach was unlikely to suit Lukaku, whose playing style has previously led to criticisms of his first touch and suggestions he is lazy.external-link

Is that unfair? He covered less distance - albeit not dramatically so - than two of his three fellow United forwards last season but he covered more ground and made more sprints per game than Martial.

How does he compare to other Premier League centre forwards who tend to play as out-and-out strikers? He was behind Tottenham's Harry Kane, Manchester City's Sergio Aguero and Chelsea's Olivier Giroud in terms of distance covered last season. But he attempted more sprints than Aguero and Kane.

Will United miss him?

Graph showing United average 1.97 points a game without Lukaku - and 1.87 a game with him
United average 1.97 points a game without Lukaku - and 1.87 a game with him

For all his goals in England - he is in the top 20 Premier League scorers of all time - there is every chance United will not miss him at all.

They had a better win percentage when Lukaku was not in their starting line-up in the past two years - both under Mourinho and Solskjaer. They won 62.5% of games he did not start, compared to 55.8% with him in the XI.

United did not sign a replacement and could go into the season with Martial, Rashford, Alexis Sanchez and 17-year-old Mason Greenwood.

Jesse Lingard could be another option.

Martial and Rashford both played as the lone striker in pre-season - as well as in the wider role in the three behind the striker. Greenwood has played frequently and Solskjaer says he "has a chance to start against Chelsea" on the opening weekend.

Greenwood's attitude in pre-season training has impressed observers. And the teenager scored twice, against Leeds in Perth and Inter Milan in Singapore.

Seen as a more instinctive finisher than Rashford, Solskjaer says loaning Greenwood out "has never been on my mind... he is flying".

Sanchez, who has had a rotten time at United, did not feature in pre-season training either because of playing for Chile in the Copa America.

His record of five goals in 45 games for the Red Devils does not point to a big season ahead - but there seems little prospect of him leaving Old Trafford, not least because of his hefty wages.

Lukaku has dropped from joint fifth to 14th on the list of most expensive transfers ever in the past two years.

And perhaps the most damning indictment is that in a time when transfer fees have exploded, United have made a loss on him.

A previous version of this feature was published on 29 July

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