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Just 24 hours after Manchester United had been dumped out of the Europa League by Sevilla - having been punished for an inability to take their chances in the semi-final - Romelu Lukaku stepped up and put two past Shakhtar Donetsk to send Inter through to the final.
While there is no doubt Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could have done with the pace, power and calmness displayed by Lukaku in his two goals on Monday night when United faced Sevilla at the RheinEnergieSTADION the night before, it is unlikely he would be flourishing in United’s current set-up.
“I think I had to rediscover myself. Last year was difficult for me on the professional side, because stuff was not going how I wanted and I was not performing as well,” Lukaku toldSky Sports about his exit last summer.
The former Chelsea and Everton forward had made his feelings quite clear as early as March when hetold Solskjaer, who had only just been made manager on a permanent basis, that he wanted out. From then on, there was to be no return.
Solskjaer has been adamant since the start about changing the culture in the dressing room. As he set about getting rid of the players who didn’t fit into his long-term plans Lukaku’s desire to leave was clearly noted.
There was to be no doubting his goalscoring ability;everyone was aware of what he was capable of despite his struggles under Jose Mourinho, which some put down to the Portuguese’s tactical set-up hindering the Belgium record goalscorer.
It should come as no surprise that he’s excelled at Inter - scoring 33 goals in 50 games - but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have left Old Trafford in the first place.
At the start of pre-season last summer, it was clear Lukaku was going to do his utmost to force a move. After most training sessions he was reporting a different physical complaintand he consequently didn’t feature in any of the five games of the club’s tour of Australia and Asia.
As the situation deteriorated,he didn’t even make the trip for thefinal pre-season encounter against AC Milan in Cardiff.Solskjaer remained tight lipped on what the future might hold for the forward.
Lukaku’s social media post - sharing data of the team’s running stats - is understood to have particularly annoyed his boss.Luke Shaw, who was bottom of the list with Juan Mata, is also believed to have been unimpressed by the move.
The post was later deleted after he was instructed to do so, but it was not the sort of behaviour Solskjaer would tolerate in his players. He then started training with Anderlecht ahead of the new season, clearly trying to engineer a transfer.
He got what he wantedwhen Inter paid €80m (£74m/$95m), where new coach Antonio Conte had been a fan of the forward since his days managing Chelsea. Despite United letting their leading goalscorer leave, it was consideredgood business to get that sum for a player who had his heart set on leaving the club.
When Solskjaer said Mason Greenwood could step up and fill the void left by Lukaku many were sceptical. And while the teenager has a long way to go to hit the dizzy heights of 33 goals in aseason, he has enjoyed an impressive breakthrough campaign - scoring 17 goals and picking up five assists.
However United now have a fluid front three in Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Greenwoodthat can interchange and cause damage, especially on the counter-attack, and as a unit they look far more dangerous than when Lukaku was there.
Of course there is room for improvement and they were punished for their inability to be clinical against Sevilla, something Lukaku had no problem with against Shakhtar. His goal against the Ukrainian champions means he has now scored in a record-breaking 10 Europa League games in a row.
While Lukaku’s stats have been impressive this term, the situation around his departure goes deeper than his goals-per-minute ratio.
While some may want to look back onwhat might have happened in Cologne last weekend had he been starting under Solskjaer there was never any guarantee he would have enjoyed the same success had he stayed at Old Trafford.