The Belgian felt leaving Old Trafford was best for everyone involved but the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is currently counting the cost of their striker’s departure. Last March, Romelu Lukaku went to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s office and told the Manchester United boss he believed it would be best for both parties when he left at the end of the season.
“I wasn’t performing and that I was not enjoying,” the striker afterward clarified.
Together with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial ahead of him in the pecking order, and Mason Greenwood simply breaking into the first group, Lukaku felt that his departure could be a”win-win situation” for everyone involved.
Just under a year later, Lukaku has undeniably benefited from his departure. The exact same can’t be said of United, however.
Greenwood might have since confirmed his potential among the most promising players to have emerged out of United’s academy in years however, Rashford is now out injured and Martial is fighting horribly in his absence.
United are turning the expense of failing to substitute the 26-year-old.
As former Red Devils midfielder Paul Ince lately told Paddy Power, “If Ole was not already regretting letting Lukaku go, he seriously will probably be now.
“I will be the first to acknowledge I had a go at him occasionally, and he can’t retain the ball, but you do get 20-25 goals a season from him.”
Lukaku struck 27 in his first season at Old Trafford, in 2017-18, however, as he confessed himself, his form tailed off dramatically the last word.
The prior Chelsea Laboratory may have played a pivotal part in Solskjaer’s successful spell as caretaker coach, netting twice in the dramatic Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain in the Parc des Princes, but it might be worth noting that he didn’t score a single goal after the Norwegian was verified as United’s permanent supervisor at the end of March.
Just six begins followed that famous night in the French funds. Essentially, once Solskjaer got his feet under the table, he began looking to the future — and Lukaku did not feature in it.
Lukaku has since claimed that the present manager’s abode, Jose Mourinho, didn’t have the players he needed to succeed in Manchester. But it’s clear that he sees his own charm in precisely the exact same light.
Solskjaer favoured a mobile attack, including Rashford, Martial and Jesse Lingard, and while Lukaku is versatile – he can be hugely powerful out broad, as he showed against Brazil in the 2018 World Cup – movement isn’t his greatest strength, that is perhaps unsurprising for a player of his size.
Obviously, that might have been forgiven at Old Trafford when Lukaku had established himself a formidable goal man but his inconsistency as it came to holding the ball up became a massive source of frustration.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will be on the other hand for Sunday’s Milan derby, advised the Gazzetta dello Sport last year that he was astounded by Lukaku’s poor control during their time together at United and made a wager with his fellow forward that he would give him” £50 for each adequate initial touch”.
To the Swede’s huge frustration, Lukaku never accepted the wager: “Maybe he was fearful of losing?!”
Nevertheless, even Ibrahimovic predicted that his former team-mate could do well at Inter due to his”sheer power”, a power that Antonio Conte was perfectly positioned to exploit.
Conte had coveted Lukaku. He tried to signal him – first during his time in charge of Juventus and then after he had taken over at Chelsea.
Crucially, Lukaku rated Conte just as highly. After a friendly between Belgium and Italy at Brussels in November 2015, the attacker was struck by the Azzurri’s style of play.
The hosts had won the match 3-1 but Lukaku was impressed with exactly how many opportunities been generated by and for Conte’s front two, Graziano Pelle and Eder.
“I understood that with his manner of playing,” he informed Tiki Taka, “I would have had a lot of chances to score and it would enhance my physical abilities.”
“After the game, we spoke a little and he explained that he was likely to Chelsea, but it was not feasible for me to follow him there. So, I told him that if he went somewhere else later on, I would accompany him.”
This reciprocal admiration fuelled Lukaku’s movement to Inter, despite interest from Juventus.
Questions were raised in Milan about the club-record fee but Conte was acutely aware of both Lukaku’s weaknesses and strengths and, crucially, he had been willing to do something that Mourinho couldn’t perform, and Solskjaer wouldn’t do: build an attack around Lukaku.
Really, since the striker has confessed himself, he excels when surrounded by gamers proficient at exploiting and creating space with clever running and crisp death.
“If there is a good deal of motion around me, here (in Inter) and with the national team, I’m at my best because then I can contribute myself and that I can be in the conclusion of the delivery,” he told Sky Sports.
“Right now, the systems we are playing, here at Inter with the 3-5-2, also together with all the Belgium national team at a 3-4-3 with players close to me.”
And besides, at Inter, Belgium’s all-time record goalscorer has to play Lautaro Martinez, the perfect foil for Lukaku together with his pace, positioning and precision.
This is a perfectly complementary, old-school ‘small-man big-man’ pairing that has sustained Inter’s Scudetto challenge and the shame is that the Argentine is frozen for the weekend’s Milan derby.
However, with his comparable level of business, the fit-again Alexis Sanchez could prove a capable deputy. Lukaku will go into the match on a high having netted both goals in last weekend’s triumph over Udinese, which ended Inter’s streak of three consecutive Serie A draws.
Lukaku may still have his defects and he continues to be nagged by allegations of being a flat-track bully but he’s undoubtedly improved since leaving Old Trafford.
He says that he learned a lot at United. And from Ibrahimovic.
“I remember one training session,” he told United’s official website. “Because we were both strikers, we’re not on precisely the exact same group and, at one stage, there was a 50/50 challenge. He went full-on against me! That’s when I knew this man wishes to compete and this guy wants to fight for his spot.
“That is why he changed me. It was an eye-opener. The man had to fight to maintain the place he’s in. So, I learned just to focus, work hard and appreciate it also.”
Therefore, while Lukaku may not have taken that bet, he’d take plenty away from playing alongside a man he explains as”a great champion and specialist”.
He has no regrets telling Solskjaer last March he wanted to leave United. One wonders, however, if Solskjaer regrets letting him go.