x

Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

For all their lavish spending, Everton are losers in Romelu Lukaku deal

£75 million (Dh355m) sale to United represents good value on their £28m investment, but replacing his goals will be extremely difficult.

Romelu Lukaku trains with his new Manchester United teammates in Los Angeles, California.
Romelu Lukaku trains with his new Manchester United teammates in Los Angeles, California.

Goals are the most priceless commodity in football. In that sense, Romelu Lukaku acting as a guarantor for them is about as safe as it gets.

The Belgium international officially signed for Jose Mourinho's side on a five-year contract on Monday for a fee that could usurp Paul Pogba's world-record deal of €105 million (Dh439.2m) if all add-ons are met.

A career spent, either permanently or on loan, at Anderlecht, Chelsea, West Bromwich Albion and Everton has yielded 145 goals in 317 club appearances, a strike-rate of one almost every other game. His 20 goals in 57 appearances for his country is not bad either.

The obvious losers are Everton. Their list of summer acquisitions is long and impressive: Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane, Davy Klaassen, Henry Onyekuru, Sandro Ramirez and the return of prodigal son Wayne Rooney has come at a combined cost of over £90 million (Dh426m). While the club may point at a healthy return on the £28m they paid Chelsea to secure Lukaku's services in 2014, their new signings are unlikely to fill the considerable void of his departure. Ronald Koeman's side finished seventh last season but eight points behind sixth-placed United. Replacing Lukaku's goals will be a near-impossible task. Giant battering rams with the pace of Usain Bolt are hard to come by.

The transfer is a win-win for Lukaku and United. The former makes the step up to a team who traditionally compete for major trophies and provides him with the platform of Uefa Champions League football he so craves. United have secured the services of a centre-forward as lethal as any inside the goalmouth, with 24 of his 25 league goals in 2016/17 coming from inside the penalty area. He has the mobility to work the channels and the thrust to propel past any defender. Lukaku is by no means the finished article, lacking the all-round game of say a Robert Lewandowski or Luis Suarez, and with a tendency to lose possession when his teammates are in desperate need of a breather. But at 24 his development is still in its intermediate years. He will get better.

A look at Opta stats for Lukaku's 2016/17 Premier League campaign highlights that United are getting an all-round striker. In 37 games Lukaku had 55 shots on target and scored 25 of them, a conversion rate of 29 per cent. When compared to the man he replaces at United - Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was released at the end of his contract in the summer - the Swede converted 17 times from 46 goal-bound efforts (20 per cent), although he played fewer games (28) owing to a season-ending knee injury in April.

While it cannot be denied the former Barcelona and AC Milan target man made an impact during his brief spell at Old Trafford, leading the club to a League Cup triumph as well as playing a significant role in helping them win the Europa League, Ibrahimovic's predatory instincts and static movement to act as a lightning rod for ball into feet often came at a cost of slow build-up and sideways passing that had blighted Lous van Gaal's reign. It can be argued that United were a more effective attacking unit after Ibrahimovic's enforced absence. The game at Tottenham Hotspur in May, although ending in defeat, showed United were at their most dangerous exploiting Marcus Rashford's pace with balls over the top.

If that is a tactic Mourinho intends to employ with Lukaku as the spear of United's attack, few are more adept at outrunning defenders than the Belgian. Few are as reliable when it comes to converting them inside 18 yards, either. As Everton fans watch the images coming out of Los Angeles of Lukaku training with his new teammates, they know replacing him will take more than eye-catching signings in other areas of the team.