It may have been difficult to judge a player during the torrid and tumultous final months of the Jose Mourinho era, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brought a new hope and new era to Old Trafford.
Under the Midas touch of Ole's revolution, there has been a clearly noticeable upward trajectory of everyone in Red. Everyone that is, it seems, except Romelu Lukaku.
Ah, big Rom. In the absence of the recently departed Marouane Fellaini, Lukaku becomes this United side's great enigma. One of the Premier League's most consistently prolific strikers at Everton, Lukaku was often mentioned in the same breath as Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane when on form and on top of his game. Swapping the blue of Merseyside for the Red of Manchester, Lukaku became the focal point of Mourinho's United identikit. The archetypal wrecking ball target man - a £75m one at that - on paper his debut season at Old Trafford didn't appear too shabby.
The amount of money in Premier League football seems so high as to be
almost meaningless, forcing us to develop different standards for what
to expect from a player based on their transfer fee.
But can a player with a £75million price-tag ever be
considered anything between success and flop? Well, Lukaku has certainly tested that theory at Old Trafford. Indeed, when we’ve seen some moments of real class from him, they’ve been tempered by circumstance. A player of his build and gait doesn’t look like he’d be the type to act with subtlety cutting in from the wing, or produce nutmegs against Brazil, but that kind of quality seems more impressive when juxtaposed with the moments that barely feel like something any footballer should be doing, let alone one with Lukaku’s CV.
A former super-sub himself, Solskjaer warned his players when he took
over from Mourinho that some would have to take the opportunities given
to them from the bench, and Belgium striker Lukaku has been one of the few
losers from the switch in tactics and positive vibes that have arrived
under the Norwegian interim boss.
There was a moment during United’s draw with Liverpool
when Lukaku send the ball out of play with one of those “what was he
doing?” touches, but few if any other players produced as many moments
of real, genuine quality.
There was his delightful through-ball to Jesse Lingard, for example,
giving the England midfielder his one big chance before he was forced
off through injury, and then we had the cross which very nearly brought a
late winner for Chris Smalling. The good and the bad of Lukaku all mashed together in a curious elixir of a performance.
28 goals, which would have been the legendary 30 if not for injury last season, represented a creditable return in a side built on defensive solidity and containment. But the doubts about Lukaku were not dispelled.
Often accused of being too lazy, cumbersome and a flat-track bully with a first touch that was often a tackle, Lukaku represents something of an anomaly. He is the only player not to have stepped up during the transition from Mourinho to Solskjaer. Lukaku confuses me and the Belgian often resembles a lottery winner with the prize of a game up front as a Manchester United striker.
Lukaku just can not find his place in the post José Mourinho era and is looking like an analog player in a digital world. Played
on the wing and in the middle of the Reds forward line, Lukaku has
struggled to look comfortable in the more mobile offensive unit.
I've never seen a centre forward with such poor control of a football and he still looks double the size he should be. Against Liverpool, Lukaku was stationed wide on the right with Marcus Rashford's lack of mobility through injury. He did well in a similar position in the fourth round against Arsenal but against Liverpool he was picked there again and was almost anonymous. He has only scored two goals under Solskjaer versus Newcastle and Reading to take his tally to a paltry nine for the season. It's nearly March and Lukaku hasn't made it into double figures.
If he is the answer, then what on earth is the question?