Despite scoring four goals in his first three appearances, including three goals in the Premier League, former managers, current coaches and several pundits have been out in force to criticise Jose Mourinho’s new number nine. Welcome to Manchester United, Romelu Lukaku.
After scoring twice in the opening game against West Ham United, Lukaku scored United’s second goal against Swansea City yesterday as the Red Devils stormed to a second successive 4-0 win and took their place at the top of the Premier League. When you factor in the Belgian’s goal against Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup, Lukaku’s United career has started in spectacular fashion.
Yet Thierry Henry, Sky Sports pundit and coach with the Belgian national team, still believes Lukaku has a lot of room for improvement within his game. After witnessing United’s demolition of Swansea, Henry focused on Lukaku’s movement – or lack of it.
“That’s [movement] something he needs to bring to his game. We all know what he can do.
“If you want to take it to another level at Man Utd – four goals in three official games is remarkable – it is about getting better. He will work on it, he’s with special players and he’s with [Jose] Mourinho.
“Mourinho will help him to develop that side of the game. We all know he has the one thing that’s most important, when you feed him in the box, he will score.”
The acknowledgement of Mourinho’s role in Lukaku’s development is key. Thierry Henry, a Premier League legend in his own right, is not being critical of Lukaku for the sake of it. Henry is critical because he recognises the talent and the ability within the player and knows what he is capable of. After scoring at the Liberty Stadium, the Belgian forward has now scored 88 goals in this division. That’s more than Dennis Bergkamp, Fernando Torres and Cristiano Ronaldo. Romelu Lukaku is still only 24.
“That guy is driven, he knows what he wants, he knows what he has to do.
“Let’s not forget, he is still young in the game in terms of playing in a team like United. When you play for Manchester United, it is totally different.
“You play a friendly against LA Galaxy and miss a goal, that goes viral. When he missed a goal in a friendly for Everton, nobody knew about it.
“Now even when you score people say you should do more, that’s the way it is.”
Another great Premier League marksman, former Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, has also had his say on Lukaku this weekend, not only commenting on his ability but on where he can – and must – improve now that he is at Manchester United.
“Lukaku’s strength is facing the goal, not with his back to the goal. When he faces the goal he is lethal, because he has the calmness to finish.
“What I hope he doesn’t do is forget what has taken him to Man Utd, to forget what his strength is.
“Everybody is saying he needs to improve in coming into midfield, but he does not have to do that too often when you have a Pogba, a Mata, a Mkhitaryan, he needs to play to his strength.
“If you look at him when he doesn’t have the ball, he does not anticipate, he reacts. And the majority of the time when he reacts, it’s late, so he needs to work on his anticipation more.”
Signing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, for a fee in excess of £75million, changes the game. There are different levels at Manchester United, different expectations. Henry is confident that Lukaku can handle the step up and will only get better as he develops and approaches his prime years at Old Trafford.
“He is strong enough to deal with it, arriving at Man Utd is not easy and he has arrived well. You ask him to score goals and he’s scoring goals.
“We are talking about the future, about what he needs to bring. He has been at United for two minutes and he’s already on four goals. The best is yet to come with Lukaku.”
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Thierry Henry are two of the best strikers to have graced the Premier League era. They both know what it takes to succeed at domestic, European and international level and both scored countless goals throughout their careers. Not only do they applaud Lukaku’s brilliance, they criticise his weaknesses because they know he has what it takes to get better and better and better. Manchester United fans will do well to listen to Henry, the best is certainly yet to come.