Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saw no need for Romelu Lukaku at Manchester United. Indeed, the Belgian was pushed out of the Old Trafford exit door within months of Solskjaer’s permanent appointment at the club. Typecast in the Premier League as a lumbering targetman with no first touch and a lack of finishing instinct, Lukaku was given a chance to reinvent himself in Italy.
The 27-year-old, however, didn’t need to reinvent himself. While Lukaku has flourished since signing for Inter nearly two years ago, he has simply been given a platform to demonstrate the skills and qualities he always had. He was a player to watch in 2021 and, under Antonio Conte, Romelu Lukaku has finally fulfilled his potential to such an extent that he is currently the best centre forward in Europe.
Before his switch to Serie A, Roberto Martinez had been the only coach to truly grasp what sort of player Lukaku is. The Belgian national team boss saw not as the former Chelsea, Everton and Man Utd forward had been typecast, but as a dynamic, highly technical attacking dynamo. Martinez even used Lukaku on the right wing in a World Cup quarter final against Brazil in 2018.
It’s no coincidence that Lukaku’s best goalscoring record has long been for his country and Conte has unlocked the same player at club level, with the 27-year-old finding the net 58 times in 82 appearances for Inter. If the Nerazzurri are to win their first Scudetto for 11 years, as they are on course to do, it will be on the back of their top scorer’s exerts.
Romelu Lukaku isn’t just a goalscorer for Inter, though. He is a creator, a facilitator and a strike partner for Lautaro Martinez with the pair on the same wavelength. This was illustrated in Inter’s recent Derby della Madonnina win over AC Milan, when Lukaku assisted Martinez for a fifth time this season, also finding the net himself.
With top spot in Serie A on the line, Lukaku produced arguably the best, most complete performance of his career against AC Milan. There was nothing the Rossoneri could do to stop him. Romelu Lukaku was rampant, showing all sides of his game in what could be lacked back upon as a season-defining moment for Inter.
“He scores like few others,” Martinez recently explained, highlighting what Lukaku offers. “Create and score, create and score, create and score. He arrived in Milan at the perfect moment. He became a complete player, obviously thanks to Conte. Today, at his age, there are no strikers as strong as him.”
There is no team at the top level of the sport that Romelu Lukaku wouldn’t improve at this moment in time. The 27-year-old has even recently been linked with a move to Manchester City. Lukaku wouldn’t have been previously thought of as a Pep Guardiola sort of player, but he is now being seen in a very different way.
One wonders what Solskjaer makes of Lukaku’s performances since leaving Old Trafford. While Manchester United’s attacking unit is one of the strongest in the Premier League, they have yet to find a player to fill the number nine position in the long-term. Ironically, Inter’s Lukaku would be the perfect striker to lead the line for Solskjaer’s fast and furious outfit.
All the way through his career, Lukaku has been misunderstood. This is no longer the case, though. For club and country, the Belgian is a figurehead. Karim Benzema, Harry Kane, Cristiano Ronaldo and, of course, Robert Lewandowski all warrant a mention in a discussion on the best elite striker in Europe, but nobody is performing at the level Romelu Lukaku is right now.