Romelu Lukaku has been nearing a Manchester United exit for a while now, but the destination has suddenly changed.
For pretty much the whole summer, Inter Milan have been trying to prise the Belgian striker away from Old Trafford. He is rumoured to be the main transfer priority of new coach Antonio Conte. Negotiations have dragged over the fee as Inter have found themselves inching closer to United’s valuation, but in the last few days the saga has taken a new twist: Juventus have gotten involved.
The multi-time defending Serie A champions have allegedly entered the race for Lukaku. Juventus are rumoured to be offering a player swap deal, where Lukaku would head to Turin whilst Paulo Dybala would join Manchester United – Juve chiefs have admitted there is interest around the Argentine. This would be a pretty seismic transfer if it were to come off, but who would be the winners and losers?
Winner: Paulo Dybala
Paulo Dybala has been one of the hottest prospects in world football for years. He was sensational in his first three seasons as a Juventus player, growing more and more influential. He had even donned the no. 10 shirt as the attack was being built around him. Then the club signed Cristiano Ronaldo and the attack pivoted to one that no longer played to Dybala’s strengths.
He struggled through 2018/19 and even though he is technically a good fit with Maurizio Sarri’s style of play, the club is willing to listen to offers for him. But given his position, a no. 10, it could have been very hard to find him a destination that was financially and sportingly viable. Manchester United, however, tick nearly all the boxes.
Alright, this team isn’t likely to win its domestic title nor is it in the Champions League, but it’s a young, hungry side destined to play fast free-flowing football. They’re desperate for a top-class no. 10 and have an army of fans so loyal even David Moyes took 3/4s of a season before being booed. Moreover they’re an Adidas side, meaning that Dybala would become the face of the team in all marketing and promotions alongside his good friend and former team-mate Paul Pogba (if he stays – if not Dybala takes centre-stage by himself).
Given United are clearly committing to a 4-2-3-1 shape there’s no question that United would become Dybala’s team almost instantly. And in the Premier League he would find a division much less capable of defending his kind of elusive, between-the-lines style. Yes, United aren’t great, but Dybala (who would instantly be one of the five best players in the league) would help make them so.
Loser: Antonio Conte
Poor Antonio Conte. One of the big things he was looking forward to as Inter coach was a compliant club in terms of player recruitment. He wanted the players he wanted and Inter were supposed to go get them for him. So he asked for Romelu Lukaku and Inter stalled and stalled. They repeatedly lowballed United for a player who is obviously brilliant and their manager desperately wants.
Inter stalled for so long that Juve have come in and stolen the player from under their noses. Well, that’s if the deal happens. Conte would be left fuming as he would either have to work with troublemaker Mauro Icardi or the undersized Lautaro Martinez as his line-leader. Plus this would make it the second time he was promised Lukaku only for his club to be gazumped and have to settle for a back-up option. Given how much Alvaro Morata struggled under him, that doesn’t bode well for his tenure at Inter.
Winner: Romelu Lukaku
Lukaku wanted to join Inter. He had previously called Antonio Conte the best coach in the world and was eager to link up with him finally. He had wanted to join Chelsea back in 2017 but Paul Pogba and his then-agent Mino Raiola convinced him to choose Manchester United. He did and has done well, but is clearly not part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans. So he had to leave, and Inter was one hell of a destination.
And given he’s been denied that, one could imagine he would be a loser here, right? Wrong. Lukaku missing out on plucky Inter and instead having to join the mighty Juventus would be a huge, huge stroke of luck for the Belgian. Here he’d join the perennial champions of Italy, guaranteeing a first-ever major European league title for him. It would also mean he would very seriously compete in the Champions League too. Sure, stylistically there’d be some kinks to work out with Maurizio Sarri but he has the hunger to score loads of goals and the associative game to make sure that he dovetails well with Cristiano Ronaldo. This would be a big win for Lukaku.
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Loser: Arsenal and Chelsea
Imagine being Arsenal and being about to spend £72m on a wing-forward and having made the best midfield signing of the window for free, thinking you’d be able to fire your way to fourth because Manchester United were going to sell Romelu Lukaku to Inter and then replace him in the squad with 17-year-old Mason Greenwood, plus the fact that Chelsea also can’t sign anyone. And hell, Chelsea with their continuity of squad must have felt good enough that they could best this free-falling Manchester United side with nothing proven in attack.
Then they go ahead and swap Lukaku and Dybala. Suddenly not only do they have a player more talented than anyone in either of your two squads but he fits their system perfectly. A no. 10 who scores and creates. He improves them both through his individual skill as well as his effect on team-mates. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial must be licking their lips. Suddenly Manchester United are serious business.
Winner: Manchester United
Manchester United have been a side lacking identity over the last few years (under Moyes and Mourinho) or if they had one (under Louis van Gaal) it was really, really boring. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had them playing with a clear identity since he took over. Ole’s run-and-gun approach is exhilarating when it works, but the wheels came off his party bus when Wolves parked their own in front of their goal.
United had no capacity to break down a packed defence. They have been playing 4-2-3-1 but their two options at no. 10 were the defensively excellent but offensively inconsistent Jesse Lingard, and Juan Mata – an amazing man but a footballer from an entirely different style. Signing Dybala would give them the elite no. 10 they need. A player who can shoot and score, who can create and who can dribble. He is a dynamic and devastating forward that would become the heart of their attack, replacing misfit Lukaku and making all their impressive young forwards better with his presence. And in terms of marketing, because it always comes back to that with United, he’s a young Adidas man with an instantly recognisable celebration. This is a win-win-win for The Red Devils.
Loser: Serie A
Just when you thought it was a race… nope! Inter appointed the best coach in Serie A and made big overtures at some serious transfer activity. They picked up the monumental Diego Godin, reuniting him with Miranda. Together they prised La Liga out of its decade-long Clasico death grip so their influence could only be positive. All Inter needed now was a striker. Someone to replace Mauro Icardi and spearhead Conte’s attack. Oh it was going to be Lukaku? Everyone was rubbing their hands. We’d have a real title race now. Inter may actually break Juve’s eleventy-billion year run as champions!
But then, no. If Lukaku joins Juve then Inter will be lacking in the firepower needed to mount an assault on Serie A. What’s worse is that if he joins Juventus then potentially the Bianconeri just signed one of the league’s best strikers! Of course what’s really wild is that even if Lukaku flops, Juve will still have enough to win the league just by denying him to Inter. If he’s a hit? It’s genuinely possible no one but Juventus will win Serie A for the next five years.