Romelu Lukaku has been absolutely dominant this season. He has 11 goals in 10 games for Manchester United, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. Inevitably the United faithful composed a chant in his honor, but the chant was far from honorable.
“He’s our Belgian scoring genius with a twenty-four inch penis,” goes the chant, featuring an inappropriate racist stereotype. Reducing black athletes to their physicality is a disgusting part of sports that is often overlooked. Including this summer during the Romelu Lukaku-Álvaro Morata transfer saga.
When Lukaku and Morata were compared by pundits, commentators, and journalists the overused argument was that while Lukaku was a physically dominant striker he lacked the technical ability and game knowledge of Morata.
It’s safe to say that Lukaku has proved his talent since his move to United, and that is exactly why the sports world needs to take a long hard look at the way it evaluates its players. Lukaku is more than just a target man in the box, he’s a proven talent with immense knowledge of the game. His movement is calculated and efficient, and his vision is superb.
Commentators and pundits alike are guilty of such ridiculous criticisms. Throughout the summer and preseason tour Lukaku’s move was constantly picked apart as an overpriced move for a target man who will win physical battles in the box, even as Lukaku consistently demonstrated various facets to his game against a variety of opposition defenses.
Lukaku is strong and quick, and pointing out that fact is not racist, but what is racist is when he is reduced to those attributes while neglecting to acknowledge his incredible knowledge of the game, cleverness, and technical ability.
While Morata is an intelligent player, the criticism Lukaku has received in comparison to him is unjustified. It’s something we too often see as well. Paul Pogba, one of the premier playmakers in Europe at such a young age, is also undersold as a physically dominant player. He, like Lukaku, was an expensive transfer for José Mourinho, but has undeniably elevated United’s play and was crucial in a side that was plagued with injuries late in the season.
Pogba, though tall and strong like Lukaku, more closely resembles Zidane with his style of play than a midfield enforcer like Patrick Vieira. Even last season he was often compared to N'Golo Kanté (another black midfielder whose world class positioning and field vision is overlooked for his physicality) as the weaker defender while Pogba’s specialty is his offensive awareness, not winning tackles and interceptions.
Comparisons of black players to the Vieira and Claude Makélélé style of play are a constant in today’s game, and do not only undersell the talent in the modern game, but it also undersells the incredible impact both Vieira and Makélélé had on the way central midfielders play the game of football, and the way that Premier League teams shape their formations.
Lukaku is one of many black athletes to be subject to such unintelligent and lazy criticism and stereotypes, and it’s an incredible disservice to such a hard working, smart, and calculated player. Lukaku has proved himself at United and throughout his career, and perhaps his continued success will finally silence those who can barely see beyond his physical appearance.