LOS ANGELES — Romelu Lukaku is already under pressure.
Just a few minutes into his first Manchester United training session at UCLA’s Drake Stadium, a pass bounced off his foot and rolled away.
With the world’s media watching, it wasn’t long before a video documenting the error was all over Twitter and Facebook. But then, that’s life at United. Every move is scrutinised. Every touch is pawed over. It comes with being part of one of the biggest clubs in the world.
You often hear from new signings that they don’t realise how big the club is until they get there. It’s particularly apparent on preseason tours, when fans queue up outside the team hotel day and night, whether it’s in Los Angeles or Shanghai.
It all adds to the pressure of being a United player.
Lukaku isn’t the first big-money signing to arrive at Old Trafford, nor will he be the last. But the Belgian might find that the pressure on his shoulders next season reaches a new level.
United’s big problem last season was that they didn’t score enough goals. You can make an argument that it was the main reason they didn’t challenge Chelsea for the title.
Lukaku is the man tasked with fixing that particular problem.
He also has to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede compiled 28 goals last season and 17 in the Premier League. For Lukaku, that’s the first target.
But on top of that, Lukaku will have to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility by himself. And right from the start, too.
His arrival coincides with United losing Ibrahimovic, their top scorer last season, and Wayne Rooney, their greatest ever goalscorer. It is a huge void to fill.
It’s also something United’s recent big-money centre-forwards have not had to deal with.
When Rooney joined in 2004, Ruud van Nistelrooy was already there. When Van Nistelrooy arrived in 2001, United had Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
When Yorke signed from Aston Villa in 1998, Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad already boasted Cole, Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham.
When Cole arrived for a big fee from Newcastle in January 1995, he joined Eric Cantona and Mark Hughes in the dressing room.
Lukaku has joined a squad with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial competing for time up front. But both played out wide more often than not last season.
Martial is only 21. Rashford is still a teenager. Rashford scored 12 goals last season. Martial added eight. Lukaku won’t get much time to ease in and find his shooting boots.
If United are going to challenge for the title next season, and that’s Mourinho’s hope, their new centre-forward will have to hit the ground running.
The bonus for Mourinho is that Lukaku has done it before. Unlike Alvaro Morata or Andrea Belotti, he has scored goals in the Premier League. A lot of goals.
He got 25 in the league alone last season, second only to Harry Kane. He tallied 18 the season before, and hit the 20-goal mark in all competitions in each of his three seasons at Everton after joining permanently from Chelsea in 2014.
Logic suggests his numbers should be even better when playing with a team that creates more chances. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s United’s hope.
Lukaku will find his transition to United easier than some. He is good friends with Paul Pogba, the main creator in midfielder. And his manager, Mourinho, already knows his strengths and his weaknesses from their time together at Chelsea.
But he will also face greater pressure than many other new United strikers have had to deal with.
They didn’t score enough goals last season as it was, and that was before Ibrahimovic and Rooney departed.
Lukaku will have to be United’s main man right away, scoring enough goals to spark a title challenge. Possibly one in the Champions League, too.
Every new signing has to deal with pressure, especially when they join a big club.
But for Lukaku, the goalposts have moved. United and Mourinho will hope he still knows where they are.