How Manchester United are preparing to replace Romelu Lukaku
Yesteryear, the Manchester United supporters would sway to the left left and sway to the right right. “He plays on the left, he plays on the right,” was how Cristiano Ronaldo’s chant began. With Mason Greenwood, he uses his left and and he uses his right.
Greenwood, 17, appears to be left-footed yet converted his penalty against AC Milan on Saturday with his right. On a day where Harry Maguire, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku were topical, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s post-match debrief began with Greenwood.
“He’s not fazed by anything on a football pitch and he shouldn’t be,” Solskjaer remarked. “It’s what he’s been doing his whole life.
“I don’t think he’s got a weak foot, no. He’s got two strong ones, like his coach back in the day! He probably decided as he was walking up if it was right or left-footed, what he was going to strike it with.”
Greenwood’s ambidextrous ability amazed the United youth coaches. “He’s the first person I’ve seen that takes penalties and the free-kicks with his wrong foot,” Clayton Blackmore told the MEN in February of last year. “I’ve never come across anyone like that! He’s got a great chance.”
That chance came against Cardiff in May and Greenwood took it, even if he literally failed to take his chances during the game. Greenwood’s two pre-season goals – against Leeds in Perth and Inter Milan in Singapore – showcased his fluid movement and natural goalscoring. He plundered 30 across the junior teams last term.
It was appropriate Greenwood should settle the Inter friendly amid their efforts to sign Romelu Lukaku. Inter predictably failed with a derisory opening bid of £54million but are still in the market for Lukaku and expected to submit a follow-up now the Belgian’s Juventus move is off.
Solskjaer said Premier League clubs ‘picked the short straw’ by voting for an early window closure when it is still open for the other major European leagues. and Lukaku leaves them in an invidious position. For United now accept it would be difficult to sell Lukaku and sign a successor within three days.
United value Lukaku at £80million and the Inter offer is the only cash bid they have dismissed. An alternative swap arrangement arising and involving a player as desirable as Paulo Dybala is about as likely as Chris Smalling starting against Chelsea.
Lukaku posed for the broadcasters during United’s media day at Carrington last week but cut an isolated figure, with only his friend Alexis Sanchez for company. They arrived 30 minutes before their teammates.
Sanchez is just short of persona non grata status at United and time will tell whether he was match-fit for the Kristiansund and Milan friendlies he was scheduled to participate in. United would welcome a potential buyer for Sanchez and are already preparing for life without Lukaku – and without recruiting a replacement.
Lukaku’s Friday night Twitter activity could be construed as him agitating but United do not view it as a negative if he stays. Lukaku was the highest attacking goalscorer in the last two seasons and enjoyed his own purple patch despite starting 15 of Solskjaer’s 29 games as caretaker and then permanent manager.
One of Lukaku’s highlights from a profligate second campaign was his selfless performance against Arsenal from the right, where Greenwood has primarily played throughout pre-season. Greenwood has already filled out, despite his rawness, and is more mobile across the frontline than Lukaku.
Angel Gomes has also enjoyed more prominence as pre-season has progressed, slotting in a neat winner against Tottenham in Shanghai and dancing past Milan defenders in Cardiff. Gomes, Greenwood and winger Tahith Chong are regarded as credible options to offset the possible departure of Lukaku.
The gaping caveat is Lukaku comfortably outscores Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, never mind academy teenagers. Though the first-team newbies could be the de facto Lukaku replacements, the onus is on Rashford, Martial and Jesse Lingard to break goalscoring barriers.
Whether it is Solskjaer’s Friday morning briefing with the press or the United squad confirmation on Sunday, some light will soon be on the Sanchez situation. The 30-year-old was socialising while his teammates were travelling to Wales on Friday and headed to London on Sunday. It is more innocuous than Gareth Bale playing golf as Real Madrid were losing to Tottenham but Sanchez’s card was marked by Solskjaer months ago.
In Singapore, Solskjaer said Axel Tuanzebe is ‘going to be the future’ of United and he needs to apply that to Gomes, Garner and Chong. Select an undercooked Lukaku or a careworn Sanchez ahead of them on Sunday and he is reneging on that pledge.
He cannot be fazed by anything.