Manchester Evening News
Man Utd player Romelu Lukaku is quickly developing into one of the world’s most feared strikers after his World Cup exploits.
You get the feeling that the pre-match huddle may return to Old Trafford next season. Certainly if Romelu Lukaku has anything to do with it.
The 25-year-old has not quite come of age at his second World Cup – that happens to teenagers – but his evolution into a vocal leader has been striking in Russia.
Before each of Belgium’s four World Cup games, Lukaku has led the charge in geeing up his team-mates – even when he did not play in that final group clash with England last week.
Lukaku will be in the mix to succeed Michael Carrick as United captain and has stepped up as Jose Mourinho’s ‘sergeant’ since his shock move from Everton a year ago.
Following the loss of Carrick’s on-field experience – not to mention the departures of veterans Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the last 12 months – that role can’t be understated in the United dressing room.
Indeed, United lack an identity without Mourinho’s only official untouchable.
Take the FA Cup final, for example. Three months after scoring a goal against a top six rival for the first time as United player, Lukaku, at 100%, would have relished again facing his old club on the big stage.
Certainly, it is hard to imagine Antonio Rudiger winning the man of the match award with a fully fit Lukaku causing him problems.
Depsite Lukaku only being on the pitch for 17 minutes, United seemed programmed to play with him. And was it any wonder? Despite a couple of niggles, the Belgian only missed five league games last season.
Ashley Young swung in cross after cross after cross but there was no one there to make the most of it at Wembley. It was hardly a surprise that Mourinho bemoaned his No.9’s absence post-match.
“They know our team without Lukaku or Marouane Fellaini does not have a presence,” he told reporters after the 1-0 defeat.
Remarkably, Lukaku’s aerial ability was once one of his supposed weaknesses. Former Everton team-mate Luke Garbutt once remarked that, despite his size, Lukaku’s heading was not his strong point because of a mysterious childhood accident but he worked on it – as the United striker has with all his shortcomings..
Take his first touch. After missing a crucial period of individual youth coaching at Anderlecht following his meteoric rise to the first team, Lukaku seized the chance to improve that attribute when he joined Chelsea.
The late Dermot Drummy, who managed the club’s reserves, used to mark out two tight boxes on the edge of the area in training and punch the ball to Lukaku. Standing in one box, the youngster would have to control the ball, take it into the next box and then score.
That thirst to improve has never left him. The Belgian is constantly speaking to mentors Didier Drogba and Thierry Henry about what he can do better – even after he scores.
Drogba was on hand to point out to Lukaku that taking a touch with his right foot rather than his left for one of his chances against Panama would have been the better option rather than sneering, Lukaku took it on board.
It has gotten to the stage now where his overall game has evolved so much that even when he does not score, he can have a meaningful impact on a game.
After missing two chances against Japan, Lukaku proved his worth without even touching the ball for Belgium’s dramatic winner at the death.