Louis Saha interview: Romelu Lukaku brings Robin van Persie-like ferocity in the box; criticising the Belgian is unfair
Former Manchester United striker Loius Saha feels Romelu Lukaku should be given time to work on his relationship with Jose Mourinho, claiming that the criticism is unfair.
It was a dream start for Manchester United this season as Jose Mourinho's men scored for fun in season-opener against West Ham United and then repeated it against Swansea City a week later. Romelu Lukaku, who joined United from Everton for £75 million, had eased into life at United. The sweet left-foot finish and close-range header on his debut in front of the Stretford End were enough for the fans to believe that Mourinho made the correct decision to lure the Belgian striker from under the nose of his former club Chelsea.
After an unexpected 2-2 draw against Stoke, United would again blast four past Everton and Crystal Palace in September. The rampaging form indicated how United finally looked like a top-top side with goals coming from left, right and center.
However, the thumping win over Palace was the last time United fans saw Lukaku hit the net for a long time. In no time, his splendid run was cut short. Cut to mid-November, Lukaku was struggling to find the net. He had failed to score or even look threatening in his last seven matches. The pressure was on Mourinho as the other half of Manchester was cruising past under Pep Guardiola.
City continued their brilliant run, while United dropped points. And it took no time for the English press to point fingers at United and especially at the off-colour Lukaku. 'Is he justifying his price? Did Mourinho and United's CEO Ed Woodward make a huge mistake by giving up on signing Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid?' were some of the questions raised by many. Interestingly, they still do it. So, in an email interview, Firstpost asked United Ambassador and former striker Louis Saha — who will be in Mumbai on the 20 January for the #ILoveUnited event — about Lukaku's struggle upfront, and whether he is a typical Mourinho striker and more.
FP: Manchester United started the season scoring goals for fun. How has United's attack transformed since Sir Alex Ferguson left?
Saha: We have some great players who are on form at the moment, the likes of (Jesse) Lingard and (Anthony) Martial, who are creating chances and scoring goals. Football has changed over the years so it is hard to compare. The difference between this team and Sir Alex Ferguson’s team is that we are playing from different areas. We had players like Paul Scholes and David Beckham giving chances to strikers. There is some likeness to this team and I hope they can continue to build on this.
FP: United replaced Wayne Rooney with Romelu Lukaku. Is it fair to call the Belgian a perfect replacement?
Saha: I don’t think it is really fair to look at Lukaku as a replacement; you cannot replace Wayne, who has been with the club for over a decade, in just one season. Wayne’s longevity and the experience he has at an international level and in the Champions League makes him a legend for the club. Only time will tell whether Lukaku will be the same, but you cannot say this after, not even one full season.
FP: United had other options too in the summer market. What does Lukaku bring to the table, according to you?
Saha: Lukaku brings ferocity in the box, which we may have been lacking. Previously we had players like Andy Cole, Robin Van Persie and Van Nistelrooy who brought this to the team. He is that kind of a player. Wayne was also like that. He brings his physicality and youth — he has legs and he can play. You also see that he has great a relationship with his team, which is just as important. He brings spirit to the club.
FP: After scoring in almost every match, Lukaku looks to have struggled to keep up with the expectations. Does he fit in Jose Mourinho's system?
Saha: I think he does. This is the first season for him playing with a new club and a new manager. There needs to be time to work on his relationships, to settle and learn his team and his manager.
As a striker, you have to learn to read your players, but as a team, you also need to read each other. Manchester United and their players receive more criticism than any other club. They are quick to criticise and this is unfair.
FP: What role can the fit-again Zlatan Ibrahimovic play this season?
Saha: Zlatan is very competitive and when he is fully fit and playing every game he will bring confidence to the team. He is a confident player and you need this as you start to get towards the end of the season, March, April is tough. This is when the size of the team matters. He is a leader with experience and this is when Zlatan’s presence will become important.
The 31-year-old full-back has moved back to the Premier League for an undisclosed fee, understood to be in the region of £12 million ($16 million) plus add-ons.
The left-back is manager Steven Gerrard's second signing in the January transfer window after Philippe Coutinho's loan arrival from Barcelona.
Sport Republic, who specialise in sport and entertainment investments, have paid a reported £100 million ($135 million) for the 80 percent shareholding in the south coast side