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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Romelu Lukaku has both the personality and attributes to suit Jose Mourinho's Manchester United

Reports of a bid accepted by Everton from Manchester United has Richard Jolly assessing how the Belgian striker will fit into Mourinho's system.

Romelu Lukaku is reported to be a subject of a bid from Manchester United. Peter Byrne / PA Wire
Romelu Lukaku is reported to be a subject of a bid from Manchester United. Peter Byrne / PA Wire

It was one of those slow run-ups that seems intended to project the impression the penalty taker is measured and confident. It looked tentative. Romelu Lukaku stuttered en route to the spot and struck his penalty tamely. It wasn’t in the corner. It was a comfortable save. Manuel Neuer dived to his left, pushed the ball away and Bayern Munich won the Super Cup.

Jose Mourinho has made a habit of signing players who have won him trophies before. He rarely buys those who cost him one. Lukaku’s miss in 2013 was the defining moment of a Chelsea career that brought the Londoners a sizeable profit, but never yielded them a goal; not even in a penalty shootout. It was his last touch of a ball as a Chelsea player. Three days later, he joined Everton; initially on loan, later for £28 million (Dh133m).

All of which might suggest a reunion between Mourinho and Lukaku is improbable, even before a £75m price that will make him the fifth costliest footballer ever is factored in. It is easy to pigeonhole Lukaku as one of Mourinho’s enemies, placing him alongside Iker Casillas and Adrian Mutu. It is also incorrect, and not just because increasing numbers of Mino Raiola’s clients are signed by Mourinho.

When the Portuguese was at his lowest ebb, following his sacking by Chelsea in 2015, Lukaku branded the decision “mad”, describing the older man in glowing terms as “a great character and a great man.” As he has admitted, he had exiled himself from Stamford Bridge.

He agitated for a loan move; he had been playing regularly in his native Belgium at 16 and, like his compatriot Kevin de Bruyne, soon tired of life as a squad player at Stamford Bridge. Ambition drove Lukaku to Everton and, after rejecting a new contract, it will take him to Manchester United. If he is too independent a thinker to be a true Mourinho devotee, they share a self-confidence that can appear arrogant. Neither has ever underrated himself.

That might be useful. United require big characters, men who are not overawed by their surroundings. Like Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lukaku may have the personality to savour life in the spotlight.

Mourinho has invariably favoured one-striker systems. Lukaku is happiest alone in attack, perhaps permitting a midfield triangle of Pogba, Ander Herrera and the probable addition Nemanja Matic. He has the physique of a Mourinho forward, though not all the traits. His hold-up play is not yet of the level of the definitive quartet of Didier Drogba, Diego Milito, Diego Costa and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Yet, besides goals, Lukaku offers a range of attributes that few share. He was branded the “baby Drogba” but his mentor was not as two-footed and lacked his capacity to score from long range. Ibrahimovic may be the greater technical talent but, even in his younger days, he was never as quick as Lukaku.

It is that turn of speed that could give United a much-needed extra dimension. The end of last season, when Marcus Rashford replaced the injured Ibrahimovic, showed what a difference it made, especially on the counter-attack.

United were too static at times. It was a downside of Ibrahimovic’s arrival, but not purely the Swede’s fault. If Lukaku’s move east facilitates Wayne Rooney’s return to Everton, antitheses will be going in opposite directions. Lukaku can be seen as the anti-Rooney: bigger, quicker, younger and far more prolific. United were too slow and too static at times last season. It is a reason why Lukaku’s Everton outscored them.

He promises to remedy certain problems. United only won eight home league games. They tended to be frustrated by the lesser lights at Old Trafford whereas Lukaku preyed on the weak. Ronald Koeman’s side triumphed 13 times at their own turf as he became the first Evertonian since Dixie Dean in the 1930s to score in nine successive matches at Goodison Park.

That reliability ought to restore United to the top four. If they are to win the title, Lukaku’s goal return against their peers has to improve. Yet improvement has been a constant in a career that has been conducted his way. As they did with Pogba, United are paying for a proven performer, but also for potential. Lukaku was the second highest scorer in the division in a less gifted side last season. He ought to get even better. But first, four years on, he should finally a score a goal for Mourinho.