Paul Parker exclusive

Paul Parker exclusive: Lukaku has to overhaul his game, otherwise he’ll be history

2017-08-07
Former Manchester United and England defender Paul Parker insists that Jose Mourinho’s new £79m hit man Romelu Lukaku remains very much a work in progress and that success is not guaranteed at Old Trafford.

“You look at Drogba at Chelsea and Milito at Inter Milan and Higuain at Real Madrid. Mourinho likes that kind of player. Lukaku is the one though who will give him more of a challenge because he has to change his game. If he wants to play under Mourinho he has to accept that just because he worked hard in one game he can’t have a rest in the next. He’s going to have to work even harder off the ball than on the ball. He can’t play for himself and look to score goals: he has to be a team player and bring people into the game; to learn how to play with his back to goal instead of turning every time. If he does that right only then will he be a Mourinho player. If he doesn’t then in a short period of time he’ll be history.” 

“Old Trafford has been something of a graveyard for centre-forwards when you go back over the years. There was Peter Davenport and Garry Birtles and they failed. So there is going to be a lot of pressure on him, especially when every media outlet is talking about Lukaku. If he doesn’t score early then everybody will be bringing up stats of past players who also had poor starts so the onus is on him.”

The signing of the physically imposing ex-Everton striker, along with the tall midfield destroyer Nemanja Matic, has prompted many to suggest that the 13 time Premier League champions are set to further distance themselves from the entertaining football the club were once so synonymous with. Parker believes it’s a sacrifice the younger residents of the Stretford End are willing to accept in exchange for silverware. 

“The fans know it’s not going to change. Mourinho isn’t going to set United up to play the style of football they’re known for but the football that he knows best which means they’re going to be very direct and first and foremost ensure they don’t concede goals. There are new fans now and it’s all about winning titles. They don’t really care how it’s done and they’re willing to let go of certain traditions so long as they can scream into people’s ears that they’re league champions.”

It is a compromise that clearly doesn’t sit well with Parker, a player who helped win a clean sweep of domestic trophies in the swashbuckling era of Sir Alex Ferguson. 
“It’s not that Manchester United are lacking players with the x-factor, it’s that they’re having to curtail their game under Mourinho. He stops certain players going out there and showing why they’re magic players because they have to play his style. Would Eric Cantona be a Mourinho type of player? That’s a difficult one to answer. You look at how Eric played and his personality and you feel they’d be a clash.”

The former right-back extends this line of thinking to prospective transfer targets too, dismissing the possibility of Welsh wonder Gareth Bale returning home from Spain.

“You have to wonder where Gareth Bale would play. There is a lot of talk about getting him because everyone now has to go out and get an expensive player. But you have to look at where you can fit him in to get the best out of him. Gareth likes to play through the middle: he doesn’t like that wide role he had at Tottenham and prefers to step inside. So you’d have to adjust the team. I look at Bale and wonder if he’s a Jose Mourinho type of player because he likes a lot of touches; he wants to run with the ball. At Real Madrid he doesn’t track back so that’s something else he’d have to add to his game.”

The rumours continue to pick up pace however and should the Real Madrid superstar be subject to a colossal bid the suspicion is that Anthony Martial’s days in Manchester may be numbered. For Parker it would be a departure that benefits both club and player.
 
“If anyone could tell me that they’ve seen him smile on a pitch then I’d say they must have a 200 inch television that has picked up the slightest flicker at the side of his mouth. There is nothing in him and he’s not relishing the challenge. He’s not doing enough and isn’t proactive, he reacts. You need that little bit more because he came to Manchester United with the same hype as Kylian Mbappe. He was a wonderkid, he was French, he was black, so suddenly he was the next Thierry Henry. I really don’t see him getting an advert for Renault Clio at this moment in time. He needs a change, to get a smile on his face and enjoy his job.”

On a more positive note the arrival of Matic to anchor the United midfield hints that another Frenchman may soon be beaming considerably more in the months ahead. Indeed should Paul Pogba’s attacking qualities be unleashed as a consequence Parker is expecting dabs in abundance. 

“I think we can expect a fifty per cent uptake on what he did last season. With Matic and Herrera being more holding players Pogba must be allowed to play in the positions that suit him best. Everyone saw last season he was getting frustrated and doing things he doesn’t normally do. He got caught in possession too often because he was trying to do too much. His strength lies in the final third where he can run against people one on one or get into the box.”


Paul Parker’s quickfire questions

Q: Who will win the Premier League?
A: Manchester City

Q: Who will win the Champions League?
A: Real Madrid

Q: Who will win the Premier League Golden Boot?
A: Harry Kane

Q: What is your score-line prediction for Manchester United v West ham?
A: 2-1 to United