Neil Humphreys: Romelu Lukaku exit won’t benefit Man United
Solskjaer has no ready-made apprentice or like-for-like swop in his squad
Two strikers conspired against Manchester United yesterday.
Wayne Rooney offered a glimpse of their magical past.
Romelu Lukaku summed up their current mess.
The symbolism was unavoidable. There was Rooney all over social media; scoring from inside his own half, a blistering strike for DC United - the kind of long-distance goal he once hammered in for the Red Devils (against West Ham United in 2014).
And there was Lukaku all over the back pages, desperate to flee Old Trafford and massage his fragile ego at Inter Milan.
United once boasted world-class strikers as a matter of routine. Now they can't keep second-tier forwards in a splintering squad, let alone satisfactorily replace them.
Inter Milan are offering the Red Devils 10 million euros (S$15.4m) in an initial two-year loan deal with an obligation to buy at the end of the loan period for 60m euros.
The deal sounds beneficial enough for the unsettled Lukaku and Inter, but less so for United.
With no Champions League football at Old Trafford next season, the chances of getting a big-name replacement are slim.
Reports in Spain have linked United to Sevilla's Wissam Ben Yedder, who scored 30 goals, including 10 in the Europa League, as they finished sixth in La Liga last season.
The 28-year-old France international represents one of their likeliest options.
Clearly, United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward doesn't hold a strong bargaining position, having overseen the worst campaign in a generation.
In one season, he managed to sack a successful, but polarising coach and hired a popular, but unsuccessful one.
United won nothing, finished sixth and missed out on Champions League qualification.
Woodward can't select from the pick of the litter in the transfer window, which makes his decision to continue as unofficial director of football all the more perplexing. He's in an unwinnable position.
Lukaku's impending departure can only reinforce the perception that United are a "selling club" - and not a particularly organised one.
Statistically, Woodward has a decent case for flogging Lukaku. The striker netted 27 times in his first season, but only 15 times in his second, when it became apparent that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wasn't convinced.
A former poacher was never going to be entirely won over by a burly, cumbersome forward with a wayward eye for goal. Lukaku hasn't been anywhere near clinical enough.
But Antonio Conte still admires him. The Italian coach tried to sign Lukaku at Chelsea and remains convinced in the big man's muscular approach for Inter.
Conte sees something in Lukaku that Solskjaer does not, which would seem to be a lucky break for United.
But Solskjaer sees nothing behind Lukaku. There's nothing in the dressing room, no ready-made apprentice or like-for-like swop.
Marcus Rashford enjoys leading the line and has performed the role for both club and country, but the Englishman is no less inconsistent around the box.
In stark contrast, Rooney, at the age of 33, displayed the kind of quick thinking rarely witnessed among the Red Devils' current forward line.
The DC United veteran's instinct - that wonderful, swaggering arrogance - to back himself to score from inside his own half is a quality lost at Old Trafford.
BEGGARS CAN'T BE CHOOSERS
So beggars can't be choosers. United still haven't properly replaced Rooney and are in no financial position to replace Lukaku.
Indeed, an ESPN report claimed that Solskjaer has been given only £100m (S$171m) to improve a squad that theoretically needs four or five new faces just to compete for the top four.
Any additional revenue must be generated through sales.
Winger Daniel James had arrived from Swansea City for £15m, Crystal Palace fullback Aaron Wan-Bissaka is on his way for £45m. But Leicester City reportedly laughed off United's £40m valuation of centre-back Harry Maguire.
The Foxes are demanding at least double that figure.
United can't pay. But Manchester City can. The Red Devils are seriously at risk of falling out of the English Premier League race before it's even begun.
But the infuriating aspect for their supporters is that the club can indeed pay.
Aside from his muddled transfer market dealings, Woodward has succeeded in boosting revenue, his overriding objective.
Woodward is doing the job that the owners want, rather than the job that the football club desperately need.
United once sold players from a position of strength. Now they sell in a state of confusion.
Lukaku is just the latest example of a club without a clear recruitment plan beyond the daily exercise of putting out fires.
The Belgian may not be the best striker in the world, but the chances of United signing a better one are slim.