LONDON (Reuters) - By signing Romelu Lukaku, a player he deemed superfluous to requirements at Chelsea three years ago, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has pulled off the close season’s most significant Premier League transfer deal.
For now, the Portuguese coach will ponder the options the powerful Belgian offers his attack, but the deal is equally important in that it has scuppered Chelsea’s plans as they seek a replacement for Diego Costa who is likely to leave Stamford Bridge.
Spain’s Costa was the striker whose arrival at Chelsea prompted Lukaku’s 28 million-pound ($36 million) sale to Everton, a deal triggered by the Belgian’s unhappiness at his lack of opportunity under Mourinho and the need for the London club to conform to Financial Fair Play rules.
While Mourinho criticised Lukaku’s reluctance to fight for a first-team place at Chelsea, he always said he never wanted to sell him and the Portuguese has now seized the opportunity to work with him again.
It is not hard to see why.
Mourinho likes a big striker and Lukaku is quick, two-footed and surprisingly mobile for his 1.91 metres (6ft 3in), attributes that should transform a United attack so reliant last season on the unorthodox experience of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Most importantly, Mourinho knows the 75 million pounds ($97 million) fee should guarantee goals, with Lukaku scoring 85 in 176 Premier League games for Everton and West Bromwich Albion.
Only Manchester City’s Argentina striker Sergio Aguero has scored more goals over the last five years.
With Ibrahimovic up front, and Wayne Rooney in reserve, United were desperately short of pace last season.
Lukaku’s ability to get the wrong side of defenders will be welcomed by his close friend and United’s world record signing Paul Pogba, with whom he could forge the sort of combination the France midifelder managed with Paulo Dybala at Juventus.
Like Pogba, who is also 24, Lukaku still has plenty to prove at the highest level and Mourinho will be keen to work on his habits of squandering possession and not scoring against teams of the highest calibre.
Last season 21 of his 25 Premier League goals came against teams in the bottom 13 spots and Lukaku was criticised for failing to deliver when it mattered most to Everton, against arch-rivals Liverpool.
While these are problems Mourinho probably feels he can deal with, only United possess the finances to splash such a huge sum on a striker not at the peak of his game.
The club clearly think he will become the finished article at Old Trafford, the sort of stage on which Lukaku, who has bags of confidence in his own ability, believes he belongs.
This time last year, United’s fans were agog at the prospect of seeing the great Swede Ibrahimovic, who scored 28 goals but was not offered a new contract after suffering a serious knee injury.
Now it is Lukaku they will be hanging their hopes on. After two trophies last season - the League Cup and the Europa League - United will hope the Belgian can spearhead a genuine challenge for a first league title since 2013.
($1 = 0.7765 pounds)
($1 = 0.7768 pounds)
Editing by Ken Ferris and Ed Osmond