Why is Romelu Lukaku so unlikeable?

The summer is still young, and Manchester United fans have already gone through the mill in this transfer window.

Only €5m away from agreeing a deal with Real Madrid for Alvaro Morata in a transfer saga pasted all over the European media, the club’s subsequent signing of Romelu Lukaku appeared somewhat out of left field. With it, a division has emerged: those convinced he is the right man to step into Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s shoes, and those underwhelmed by a Belgian striker perceived as inconsistent and unlikeable.

But why?

Maybe because history tells us Lukaku struggles to keep his mouth shut, and not in a good way. He incurred the wrath of Everton supporters and pundits during his time with the Toffees having repeatedly angled for a move away from the club over the past couple of years.

In February 2015, halfway through only his first season as an outright Everton player, he already had itchy feet:

“I want to develop so I can eventually get back to playing for a club like Chelsea [and] arrive at a top club again.”

Then a year later in March 2016, the feet became itchier still:

“Leave Everton in the summer? Maybe, yes. You never know.”

A year on again during an international break, things got worse. Asked if he could go on to become the world’s best, Lukaku said:

“Definitely. Definitely. But to do that, you need the platform to show yourself”

A veiled dig at Everton’s level and reputation. He also questioned the club’s lack of ambition:

“instead of living in the past, you have to think ahead… how this club has to grow, improve; which player does it want to bring in [to] challenge for the big trophies?”

Lukaku rejected a new contract around this time too, and in another interview, made it clear that staying at Merseyside “wasn’t an option” this summer.

Lukaku acknowledging the Goodison Park faithful, some of whom are glad to see the back of him (Source: Twitter)

 

These comments – while perhaps reasonable observations – quickly found their way into the press and Twitter-sphere, where most picked up on an apparent lack of class and respect towards his then-employers. As the saying goes, if you have to air some dirty laundry, fine – but don’t do it in public. As a result, Lukaku copped much flak, particularly from certain strands of Evertonians.

Then there’s his apparent hypocrisy on the matter. A couple of months on, the player took to Twitter after further widespread speculation about his future…

One can safely assume Lukaku was angry about misrepresentation or encountering outright lies written about him, which is understandable. But at the very least, his prior comments (stretching back two years, no less) added fuel to flames that he had already been busy fanning. If you speculate, surely you leave yourself open to further speculation from others, however wild. Double standards? Quite possibly so.

Now how about what actually happens on the football pitch. The man scores goals and numbers don’t lie; 20+ totals over the last three seasons are hard to argue against. But much like the giant Swede he is replacing at Manchester United, Lukaku’s figures can hide what actually happens when you open your eyes and look at the man himself on a football pitch.

That would be variations of the following: heavy first touches, miscontrolled passes and wrong choices in the final third, broken down counter-attacks, arm-waving and refusals to celebrate with others.

On two occasions, Lukaku went more than four games without a goal in the Premier League during 2016/2017, and he drew a blank in 20 of his 37 appearances. This would suggest he scores goals in gluts rather than consistently or at regular intervals (perhaps avid Fantasy Premier League managers will agree), which as a manager, teammate or fan, can prove frustrating.

To return to last season’s numbers: 25 goals and second-highest scorer in the top flight is still an excellent return. But the essence of this argument is the frustration which surrounds Lukaku as a player.

There are question marks over his ability to deliver consistently at the highest level and produce actual football of a level befitting a club like Manchester United. There is also the small matter of Champions League football to throw into the ring. This is why Alvaro Morata was looked upon more favourably by Reds fans over the past few weeks until the saga reached its climax: for the Spaniard is the better footballer (and proven in Europe), with the Belgian supposedly the better goalscorer.

Whichever way you look at it, Romelu Lukaku still has a lot to prove. Now he finds himself on the big stage that he has craved for so long, and one where he really has no excuse but to deliver. It’s time for him to stop talking and start delivering – then maybe he’ll win a few more people over along the way.