As the Lukaku transfer to Manchester United comes to a conclusion (transfers these days tend to be done in stages of completion, from a break on twitter to the eventual deal being announced) there has been some bewilderment and mockery from opposing fans at the largely mild response of Evertonians to Lukaku leaving. Understandable questions around the damage losing the goals of Lukaku and the perceived hit on the ambition of the club have been raised. While there are no certainties in life or in football, there is reasonable evidence to suggest contrary to orthodox logic that in spite of losing Lukaku Everton could still emerge a stronger force at the end of the window.
Before we begin it should be stated that the loss of Lukaku will be a massive hurdle to overcome. Everything should be framed from within that paradigm. He has scored 15+ league goals in 3 of his four seasons with us and in the 4th where he failed too he scored over 20 in all competitions. There is a consistency to his goalscoring that few outside of Aguero and Kane have emulated during his stay in the Premier League. Last season the number of goals he scored went to the next level and while there we improvements in his all round game there is still some way to go in this regard if he is to get to where he wants to get too.
This has been a worryingly predictable transfer. Everton losing one of their top players is not a new phenomenon though perhaps for the first time in my lifetime of supporting Everton it has been done within a wider context of competency and deliverance on player recruitment. While none of the signings are a like for like replacement for Lukaku that we can see other areas have been strengthened has certainly softened the blow. It has also rightly allowed us to control the narrative of Lukaku leaving, not being one of a unbreachable glass ceiling Everton have once again hit, but of an ambitious club moving forward allowing a star asset to leave for a record fee. In truth Moshiri and Everton’s rejuvenation has probably arrived a summer too late for Lukaku who rightly feels after a season with 25 league goals the time is right for him to play in the Champions League. It’s hard to begrudge him this yet at the same time there should be a hope we will make a better fist of keeping star players moving forward.
While there is some variance on fees there will be a large agreement that whichever figure you look at Everton have got a substantial amount. It could vary from a world record fee to a record between British clubs (and 3rd on the list). This is serious money and vindication of the club policy not to insert a release clause of 70 million pound release clause in a new 5 year deal. Of course in the market the way it is, it is hard to say with any certainty the club couldn’t have got more, there is the potential for hyper inflation on fees to kick in with any moment, with clubs with no financial imperative to sell holding assets newly wealthy buying clubs desperately crave leading to a volatile market. However unlike Rooney 13 years previously where it was stated 50 million would not be enough to only sell for just over half the club have placed a figure of 100 million and got close to this when add ons are considered. He is also out of the door in time for pre-season and no risk of him overshadowing Everton’s preparation work has been allowed.
Most Evertonians of a particular age will remember Everton has a history for moving on a top striker only to improve the following season. The closest parallel is Gary Lineker in 1986, who having scored 40 goals in a season moved to Barcelona for a world record fee. Everton who finished runners up in league and cup that season went on to win the league the following season, with unglamorous recruits Power and Dave Watson playing an important role. The system changed to one that suited the entire team and not the striker and goals were more shared around.
The similarities are clear to see with the current Everton team. While not knocking Lukaku it would not be unreasonable to say he didn’t fit Koemans style. He spoke regularly of a high press game, which we saw in his absence on the opening day of the previous season against Spurs, with Deulofeu, Mirallas and Barkley deployed as a front 3. Such is the consistency of Lukaku he played pretty much every other game, so our sample size for what Koeman looks to do without him is small, so generalisations must come with a pinch of salt but it would suggest a more mobile forward line able to press from the front will be deployed. This will likely be accompanied with a standard target man in the mold if Giroud to present Everton a variety of options for a manager that values a tactical flexibility.
While Everton became dependent on Lukaku who delivered consistently last season, you feel to move in the direction Koeman wants, his departure resolves the question definitively. What is clear is that Koeman is looking for goals in other areas of the team. He made much talk of other players contributing more, wth Koeman singling out Mirallas and Barkley as 2 specific examples who both contributed under 6 league goals last season. If they remain here next season he will demand more. With the signing of Klaassen, Sandro, Rooney and strong links to Sigurdsson and Giroud Koeman will be looking for all of the above to contribute close to 10 goals each to help ease the burden of such a big chunk of goals being lost. This is what Kendall was able to do in 87 and without adding more goals from other areas there is no way Lineker could have been replaced.
As for United, what sort of player are they getting? On the positive they are getting a fantastic goalscorer, without dispute Everton’s best in the Premier League era. They are also getting a lad who on his day can terrorise defences when running at them. He has the potential to score them 30 league goals next season. In games last season where they hammered teams but couldn’t score the goals required to turn draws into wins, you can’t help but feel Lukaku will help solve this problem. Where Ibrahimovic was consistent Lukaku is explosive and expected several braces and even Hat tricks next season.
On the flip side his hold up play and consistency will need to be better. While at Everton he was forgiven the annual no shows at Anfield and inability to bring others into the game, you feel the Old Trafford crowd will be less forgiving. Lukaku has wanted the world stage and is now being given it, yet with that stage comes a scrutiny and pressure he has yet to see at Everton. In defence of Lukaku he has always handled challenges well and improved as required, yet this will be his biggest challenge yet. I suspect he will be reminiscent of Andy Cole, who’s goal record for United was fantastic yet found himself wanting as United moved towards developing a more continental style approach and English clubs moved away from having 2 strikers up top. Both meant the scrutiny on his all round game meant the goals alone were not enough and he was bombed out quite quickly. I doubt the same fate will befit Lukaku but there will need to be further improvements in his all round game if he is to kick on to the level he wants to get too.
The dovetailing of the signing with that of Wayne Rooney has been another smart move by the club. The feel good factor of Wayne coming back has been widespread. It should be noted that despite a previous piece arguing in favour of Rooney coming back, he alone will not be an adequate replacement for Lukaku. We are not getting Rooney of 2004 back, the lad who for my money was the best European player at 18 but the 31 year old who has 500 games under his belt. He has much to offer, and a moments reconciliation feels worth more than a lifetime of friendship for Wayne but we will need to see Wayne’s influence will go beyond just what we see on the pitch.
While this piece, and many comments will be parodied in some parts as celebrating losing a star player. This to me is an unfair caricature. I am happy the club has negotiated a record fee so early in the window and resolved a potentially tricky situation swiftly to allow us to move forward. For the first time since watching Everton, we have a plan of what we are trying to do, which is centrally underpinned by Everton being the best. The execution on this plan has been nothing short of scintillating so far. Lukaku will not be the last to leave though perhaps he is the last of the pre-Koeman era who needs to be convinced of the direction Everton are going in who feels the grass is greener elsewhere.
Perhaps for the first time we have demonstrably seen that Everton are now defined positively on our own terms, as opposed to letting others define us on what we don’t have, can’t have or can’t keep. I wish Lukaku success and thank him for his service and look excitedly at the development of the club.