Romelu Lukaku should be given time to prove his worth despite his recent slump in form because he has already proved he's no flash in the pan, says former Manchester United striker Michael Owen.
The 24-year-old has failed to score in his last seven United appearances having begun the campaign with 11 goals in 10 matches.
But BT Sport pundit Owen, who spent three years at Old Trafford between 2009 and 2012, says critics must remember that Lukaku is still learning at the top level.
“I still think Lukaku is quite a raw player. I think his hold-up play for a big lad is not what it could be but he’s only young still and what he does give to the team are the bits that you really want, that don’t grow on trees,” Owen told Goal. “Scoring goals is one of the hardest things to do and he is a constant goalscorer.
“He’s obviously going through a bad patch at the moment, however it was only a few weeks ago when everyone was saying, ‘Is this lad going to break all the records?’ with 11 in 10 or whatever he scored. It was just a brilliant start to his Manchester United career and now it feels all of two minutes later and everyone’s questioning him.
“But nobody ought to question him, it’s not like he’s been a flash in the pan for 10 games. He’s done it consistently in the Premier League, he’s always scored goals, he’s got the attributes to score goals.”
Lukaku’s downturn has coincided with United’s switch to a more cautious style of play, and Owen was not entirely surprised by manager Jose Mourinho’s change in tactics.
“A lot of the time at the start of the season they were winning 4-0 and whatever, but I think we’ve seen Jose Mourinho for many years now, naturally that is his way of managing,” Owen adds.
“I think everyone thought there was going to be a big sea change but when you look at the fixtures, Manchester United did have a relatively easy start to the season and we should have known really that Jose might slip back into a more cautious way of playing in these bigger games and that’s exactly what’s happened.”
Lukaku might find his immediate future complicated by the imminent return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with the Swede potentially pushing for a spot on the bench for United’s Saturday evening clash with Newcastle United.
And Owen says Ibrahimovic’s drive to continue his career at the age of 36 deserves huge praise.
“Firstly you’ve just got to give him full credit. At his age, to have a big injury like that, most people would probably think, ‘I’ve not got that long left anyway, so do I want to go through the sheer agony of rehabilitation.’ That is really hard, I’ve been there and done it with the same injury. So hats off to him because I don’t know whether I’d be able to do it at his age.
“Now he’s nearing his return, the next question is will he be what he was. I’ve got no reason to think he won’t. He was never one to necessarily rely on loads of pace, it’s his size and movement and everything else, and as long as his knee is structurally solid and strong enough to carry him then I don’t see why his game should be any worse. Obviously he’s getting to an age now where he’s not going to be around forever, but I really do admire him for getting back from such a bad injury.”
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