In case you somehow missed it, Manchester United signed Romelu Lukaku from Everton for a fee that could reportedly rise as high as £90million with add-ons. For those of you who haven’t been watching Big Rom bang in the goals for the Toffees over the last few years, Chris from Royal Blue Mersey has been kind enough to answer some questions for us.
The Busby Babe: Right then. Congratulations(?!) on signing Rooney. So what caliber of player does 75 million quid get you these days? Obviously various market forces have dictated the price, but is Lukaku the real deal?
Royal Blue Mersey: The short version is you've gotten the best goalscorer on the market this summer.
Zlatan Ibrahimović needed replacing - job done. Lukaku was, for most of the season (thanks a lot, Harry Kane), the best striker in the Premier League. He's the complete article, and at only 24, will probably still improve, too. Rom's more physical than Álvaro Morata, and likely better suited for the single-striker role that Jose Mourinho prefers. He can score with either foot or with his head, from a slow-burning build up and on a lightning quick break.
Wayne Rooney did United fans one more favor on his way out - it's very likely his presence in the deal saved United a little money and convinced Everton to accept their offer over Chelsea's.
TBB: What is the general reaction from Toffees fans to this deal? Disappointment at losing a big talent? Bemusement that he could fetch such a fee? Excitement to see Ronald Koeman take this money and reinvest it into the world's slowest attack of Rooney and Giroud?
RBM: Resigned, probably. We all knew it was a matter of when, not if, simply based on the reality of the world football scene. For the most part, Evertonians are immensely grateful for Lukaku's contributions the last four seasons. There has been some hand wringing over his widely-publicized friendship with Paul Pogba, his comments every time he was away with Belgium, and things like that, which may keep him from ever being a hero like Tim Cahill or Tim Howard. However, there's no denying what Lukaku has done for the club. I would expect a rousing welcome when Rom comes back to Merseyside this season.
It's hard to see your best player leave - especially at such a young age - but as things stand, Everton aren't quite big enough to be able to hold on to a player of this caliber. The good news is that thanks to the current regime, the Blues are well-positioned to continue their upward trajectory, and the funds spent in the market to date had nothing to do with the fee received for Lukaku. Everton's net-spend has been reset to zero, so there's much more to come this summer from Goodison Park.
TBB: In the four years Lukaku spent at Everton, has his game developed as much as fans expected? How much better can United fans expect to see him get in the coming seasons?
RBM: Definitely. For long periods, one of the biggest criticisms of Lukaku's game was that "he couldn't hold the ball", or he was a "flat track bully". Well, he definitely will bully you on a flat track if it comes to that, but there's so much more to his game. On sheer size alone, Lukaku has come into the ability to be a hold-up forward, and he's grown from having 2 or 3 ways to hurt you into having an entire locker full.
Jokes (many, many jokes) aside, Rom has worked diligently on his first touch, and while it will probably never be Griezmann-esque, it displays a willingness to apply himself and acknowledge shortcomings in his performance. With that work has come a marked improvement in the dribbling department, which proved a little terrifying for opponents. It's just not right for someone that large to be so nimble.
In terms of further development, one area that could be helped by having José Mourinho as manager is his defensive workrate. While not necessarily a hallmark of any forward, it's one of the few sections of Lukaku's ability that leaves a lot to be desired.
TBB: What would you say are his biggest strengths as player? Any significant weaknesses?
RBM: Lukaku has more creative ability than he gets credit for, and truly shines in the open field. Thanks to Everton's recent roster construction (lack thereof?), Rom's playmaking ability has really come into its own. Lukaku was second on the team in both key passes and assists during the previous campaign.
Beyond that, his finishing ability (as you might expect) is nearly unsurpassed (22% conversion rate), in large part thanks to his penchant for taking really, really good shots. Nearly anything inside the area has the possibility to turn into a grade A chance.
Impressive, too, is Lukaku's consistency and durability. He played 3267 minutes the season, scoring 42% of Everton's goals.
There is some bad to go along with the good, unfortunately. When isolated and without a good playmaker behind him, Rom gets frustrated, and can drift in and out of matches. He won't drop deep like Kane and work to get the ball back very often, either. It could change over time, of course, but don't be surprised to see a little sulking on the pitch from time to time if the chances aren't coming.
TBB: Having seen Lukaku play under different managers with different approaches to the game, what playing style or tactical set-up would you say best plays to his strengths?
RBM: Let the big guy run. Turn him loose. I realize that could be wishful thinking under José, but if you can get Lukaku in the open field, running at the back line, and pointing for the ball into his feet, it's over. Combinations, interchanges, and off the ball runs are the Belgian's specialty.
Parking Lukaku in the box and whipping in crosses would be a mistake. He thrives when he's involved in the buildup, be it on the fly or in possession. Manchester United are getting his best years, and Lukaku is good enough for Mourinho to set up the attack around him.