It is no secret Manchester United want to sign a new striker in the summer transfer window.
Even with Edinson Cavani now seemingly happy to extend his short-term stay in the North West of England there is an underlying concern about the long-term vision of the club as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks to mount a serious title challenge next season.
Cavani, 33, has almost acted as the perfect blueprint for his future successor. Someone who can be the main focal attacking point for balls into the box, but also someone with the mobility and energy to adapt to Solskjaer’s desired high-pressing approach.
It is for those reasons Erling Haaland is viewed as the dream transfer target this summer; although his hefty price-tag, controversial agent and interest from elsewhere make such a deal a dream rather than likelihood.
To break down in simple terms United still need a new world-class No.9, someone who can add a physical presence to their attack but also guarantee them at least 20 goals every season.
Oddly enough they already had one in Romelu Lukaku – well, on paper at least.
The Belgian left United two years ago having spent the same period of time playing for the club in the first place, as Inter Milan smashed their club-record fee to sign Lukaku for £74million, £1m less than was spent on bringing him to Old Trafford by Jose Mourinho.
His 61 goals in 92 appearances for Inter culminated with a Serie A title win earlier this week, as Lukaku basked in the glory of a fanbase who are giving him the love and respect which he so cherishes.
When loved he represents one of the finest finishers of this generation, but that love is not something he always felt in Manchester.
Manchester United latest news
United are aiming to confirm their place in the Europa League final as they travel to Italy for the semi-final second-leg against Roma.
The Reds notched up a stunning 6-2 first-leg victory to almost guarantee their passage to the final in Gdansk on May 26.
MEN Sport will bring you all the build-up to and reaction from the match in Rome. You can have it all delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our daily newsletter. Just put your email address in the sign-up box at the top of this article, or simply follow this link. It’s free and only takes a few seconds.
The man who famously posted a ‘leaked’ image of his running stats during his United spell, this week posted a timely picture to his Instagram account of him celebrating the Scudetto with Ashley Young, Alexis Sanchez and Matteo Darmian. The quartet were all deemed surplus to requirements by Solskjaer.
While Inter’s title victory predictably raised the recurring theme of Lukaku’s own exit from Manchester it also raised an important issue – buying players who are not only talented but have the right work ethic and mentality to succeed in Solskjaer’s first-team squad.
It was back in March 2019 when Lukaku first made it apparent he wanted to leave at the end of the season, having grown disenchanted by his dwindling playing time since mentor Jose Mourinho had been sacked.
For Solskjaer there was a reluctant decision to make, as deep down he knew selling a natural goalscorer like Lukaku was going to be for the greater good of the team, even if it left him a little short up front.
However, the Norwegian didn’t believe Lukaku would fit into the style he wanted to play going forward – that decision ultimately made his goalscoring record and price tag irrelevant.
“Of course Rom has a good record and statistically he’s one of the top number nines around when you want to play with that kind of striker, a target man,” Solskjaer explained shortly after he was sold to Inter.
“It was time now for Rom to go because I think we got a good deal, he’s happy, so I think both parties ended that deal as it should be.”
While it was a controversial decision at the time it is one which had been vindicated already, as Solskjaer has fulfilled his brief and put smiles back on faces around Old Trafford.
“Personality is so important. We’re a team in a team environment,” Solskjaer told United We Stand a year ago.
“You want players to have a bit of ego and edge but they have to be able to adapt. The players started with negative thinking, whereas now it’s positive thinking.”
It’s also worth noting Lukaku’s scintillating form for Inter has been inspired by his unflattering United exit and he wouldn’t have had such a transformation had he played for a manager who didn’t want him as much as Antonio Conte.
Lukaku hadn’t featured for United in a single pre-season game, instead sidelined by a mystery ‘injury’ as he awaited his exit and Solskjaer deployed a new tactical approach around a fluid attacking approach.
Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Jesse Lingard were the four players tipped by the manager to fill the void, while Mason Greenwood was being prepared for a phenomenal breakthrough season.
However, United were left light in attack and in the January window a failed move for Haaland was followed up by failed moves for Joshua King and Salomon Rondon before Odion Ighalo was signed late on deadline day.
It was not until Cavani arrived last October that United had truly replaced Lukaku in their first-team squad, and now they are posed with the challenge of having to repeat the feat by finding a successor for the Uruguayan within the next 12 months.
News of a seemingly imminent contract renewal for the former Paris Saint-Germain striker has at least alleviated some pressure ahead of the summer transfer window, but Solskjaer will be hoping the issue of replacing Cavani doesn’t take a year like replacing Lukaku did.
On paper it might seem that a player with an outstanding goalscoring record like Lukaku had would be the missing piece to make United top-flight champions again, but Inter’s own title winner is once again a reminder that talent is just one part of what Solskjaer needs from his new recruits this summer.