For that last six month, everything indicated that Romelu Lukaku would be joining Chelsea. Then, surprisingly, last week Manchester United announced it had agreed upon a fee, rumored to be more than $120 million, for him. There are those who have claimed that United was playing a double game all of this time, that it was negotiating for Lukaku while using the process with Alvaro Morata as a smokescreen.
The truth is probably a little more pragmatic: United inquired about Lukaku a couple of months ago only to be told that negotiations with Chelsea were so far advanced that there was little point making a play for him. Last week, however, Lukaku’s agent, Mino Raiola, who has a good working relationship with both Jose Mourinho and United’s CEO Ed Woodward, revealed that the Chelsea deal had stalled and that United could step in.
Woodward has a name as a generous dealmaker; he is not avoid paying slightly over the odds to get a deal done. Everton and Raiola had, it appears, grown frustrated with the slow pace of negotiations with Chelsea. Lukaku may have liked the idea of finishing what he started at Chelsea, but the prospect of playing for Manchester United and earning more than $250,000 a week also seems to have been attractive.
United, meanwhile, has not only got the striker it needed to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their team, but has also off-loaded Wayne Rooney. And even if it ends up subsidizing his wages at Everton, that signifies a significant saving. It may not totally be a coincidence either that in completing the deal, Mourinho ended up getting one over on each of the last two sides he managed, Chelsea and Real Madrid, and the deal will have ramifications for both.
Chelsea will need a striker. Aside of Lukaku, there may be three with a similar profile: Morata, Andrea Belotti and, the youngest and most expensive of them, Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe. Belotti, the 23-year-old Torino forward, is probably the best fit due to his aerial ability, but would probably cost over $100 million.
This generates some issues. First, with Nemanja Matic, who had looked like joining United from Chelsea for around $50 million, but if relations between Chelsea and United get strained, it may be aborted. And then Real Madrid, who do not look well after holding out for more than $80 million for Morata. If they need to sell, perhaps to help finance a move for Mbappe, Chelsea might pick him up for a way smaller fee than expected not long ago.
Now, the obvious question: how does Lukaku fit in at Man U? He was second scorer in the Premier League last season with 25 goals. His count of 118 top-flight goals by the age of 24 (33 of them in Belgium) is remarkable. He is good in the air and quick on the ground, but his moving range is small. Some wonder if Lukaku occasionally goes missing, especially in big games, but it’s never easy with strikers to tell whether when that happens the fault is theirs or that of the players meant to pass them the ball. All those questions are for a month’s time.
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By now, though, Lukaku’s move to United dictates the remainder of the transfer market for some of the world’s biggest clubs.