‘Big Rom’ is tangible again. Untouchable! Jose Mourinho’s words turned out to be empty on Friday: he dropped Romelu Lukaku (25) on the bench. Need for peace, need for reflection. After all, his trust is offside. This was also apparent from his incident. No application for a basic place.
Rewind to October 30, 2017.
Romelu Lukaku did not score in five games in a row after a strong start at Manchester United, but José Mourinho jumps for him. At a press conference he calls him untouchable twice. “In the sense of respected by everyone,” he adds. His trainer adds the deed to the word. When it matters, “Big Rom” plays 90 minutes. 45 times out of 56 in the 2017-2018 season, 12 out of 13 in 2018-2019. The numbers of a player who is always the first to be crimped onto the tactical board.
Fast forward to Sunday October 28, 2018, 4pm.
After the Saturday training the first rumours circulate that Mourinho is intent on sacrificing Lukaku. An hour before the kick-off of the match against Everton, the confirmation appears on millions of smartphones and screens. Lukaku’s name is not on the tweet of Manchester United between the basic eleven, but with the seven bank sitters. The reason, says The Special One, we do not have to look far: “He played a lot of matches. The last time he not only scored no goals, but his confidence seems to have been sucked out of his football. That is why I made this decision. For his own good. We are protecting him away from the initial pressure.” An explanation that sounds very different from the talk he had sold on Friday at his press conference.
A change of heart, Mourinho then: “I feel that it is okay with Lukaku. It was Cristiano Ronaldo who once sketched the funny analogy with a ketchup bottle. If you shake it, the goals will come. I also believe that the same thing can happen to Lukaku,” If he has not pressed too hard on the bottle. Who called Lukaku after a debilitating season, a race against the clock to get fit for the World Cup preparation and a long world cup prematurely back from a holiday because he was in a player’s need? Right. Lukaku is untouchable.
Play on Sunday, October 28, 2018, 5pm.
Smacking on a chewing gum, cut out under the hood of his black coat, Lukaku takes place on the couch. Between Alexis Sánchez and Jesse Lingard. He does not look happy when the Sky Sports camera zooms in on him, Lukaku prefers to play every second. Even if the body craves – also the next five days, it can blow out. From his seat he sees Paul Pogba leading his team, in two times from the spot. The pace at United is high enough. Attacking trio Mata-Rashford-Martial causes a lot of movement, Fred and Pogba feed them. It is anything but perfect, but without target points, the Mancunians’ game looks less predictable, Less static too, and Good moments. Anthony Martial, in the form of his life, leads the 2-0 with his fifth of the season. Applause on the banks. On the hour Lukaku lifts himself off the tracksuit. In the front he comes to relieve Rashford but raising confidence does not happen. He wins three air duels.
He plays a ball well deep. He is sidelined twice and the only chance, a header on a perfectly carved Pogba cross, summarizes his season. His head caresses the ball with little power it ends up next to goal. A miss owns to a striker on the dool. Mourinho: “Making goals is very difficult for us. You can see that. The last nine matches have hit my two attackers once, if I am not wrong, one time. Between Lukaku and Rashford. When Lukaku invaded, he looked more agile and mobile than the past few weeks and he kept the ball better.”
Now still score and recapture his place. A certainty is that basic place anything but ‘Big Rom’ is tangible again.