The Independent

Never write off a striker like Romelu Lukaku

 

Suresh Nair

A STRIKER’S job, in football or any sport, is simply thankless. You score goals and you’re hailed a hero. If you don’t, you risk being booed as a zero.

Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku is a classic case in point. The £75m summer signing from Everton, only 24 years despite his brawny-physique, scored 11 goals in his first 10 games. But none in his last five.

And the perceived lack of support for Lukaku from the Old Trafford crowd has pissed off manager Jose Mourinho, ironically, the same boss who sold Lukaku when he was Chelsea manager.

He should be “untouchable” from fans’ criticism, says Mourinho in the most upfront show of support for the Belgian striker.

“What he does for the team is fantastic and to play football for a striker is not just about scoring goals,” he says. “I think Romelu is one of the players who should be untouchable in terms of respect from everyone.”

Yes, Lukaku drew his fifth blank in a row against Tottenham on Saturday. But few realise that he did set up the Anthony Martial 1-0 late winner.

“For me, he is untouchable in my team and I think he should be untouchable in the support and the respect he deserves from the fans,” says Mourinho.

THE GOAL DIFFERENCE

Over the club’s website (www.manutd.com), Mourinho let fly: “I would like the supporters to explain to me why they don’t support him so much because he gives everything and I think it is not fair when scoring the goal or not scoring the goal (he) makes the whole difference.

“I don’t think it is fair at all. So, I’m a bit disappointed – but not with him. With him, (I am) very pleased.”

Even Singapore’s oldest former international striker Aleks Duric, who played until he was 44, says: “I dare say that the most stressful job on the football pitch is to score goals. That is not because, as a former striker, I’m biased. Many people believe that goalkeepers have a thankless job but strikers are just as liable to go from hero to zero and we are under extreme pressure to score in every game.”

The contrasting fortunes of the English Premier League (EPL) hit-men says it all. Inevitably, their clubs’ fortunes are heavily chained to their scoring form. Look at Tottenham’s Harry Kane or Chelsea’s Diego Costa or even in the Spanish Liga for Real Madrid’s Christiano Ronaldo.

In my opinion, the latest support by Mourinho for Lukaku is a God-send message that strikers must be spared the whip in goal-less drought and rightly motivated, irregardless of whether they score goals or not.

FREEDOM TO EXPRESS

They must be given the freedom to express and respected so that they feel the confidence of the team and supporters.

The transformation in strikers who know that they’ve the backing of their bosses, not by the number of times they hit the net, will always be unbelievable. If they’re assured they will be full of belief and full of fire. The right motivation can make all the difference.

It is not as if a striker’s life is not stressful enough. Every team, from the EPL to the Spanish League and even the S-League depend on the scorers. They always have to convert any chance that comes their way and that means being 100 per cent physically and mentally ready.

In my opinion, it’s definitely is the hardest job in football. And managers who stay behind their strikers will eventually get the rewards in good time.

Mark my words: Lukaku may well be one of the singular personalities to win the EPL title for the Red Devils (nickname for Manchester United) when the season ends in June next year.

And there’s extra incentive for him this weekend, too: He may well prove you wrong on Sunday and put his finger to his lips when Manchester United travel to his former club Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

So, please don’t write him off so soon. Lukaku can be loudest in scoring.