Giant signings Lukaku and Lindelof highlight Man United's desire to build a big team for a huge season


Big. Most things are in Los Angeles, a sprawling conurbation of 18 million, where everything seems to be at least 40 minutes away by car. At the UCLA’s main campus in Beverly Hills, both Manchester United and Real Madrid train at the same time, two of the world’s biggest football clubs in the same wealthy area of California for the second time in three years. Though they don't communicate directly, they pitch for the same hotels and training facilities. 

On Friday morning, both trained in the California sunshine amid the facilities so admired by Jose Mourinho, separated by a few fences. The first 15 minutes of United’s training was open to media and some fans. Security was tight, with none of the chaos Mourinho was aggravated by during last season’s tour in China.

The players stretched, jogged and jumped on the pitch usually used by the athletics club at UCLA. Mourinho watched, smiling and satisfied. He’s got two of the targets he wants already from the four he’s identified. He continues to put pressure on his boss Ed Woodward to sign two more, either by getting his people to brief as much or saying it in public, as he did when he spoke to the media after the training session. He knows that another sixth place will not suffice for United, that the early season optimism will quick deflate if United start drawing more games than they’re winning at Old Trafford like last term. He has to get it right, which means perhaps not a title win as he continues to build, but definitely not 24 points behind the title winners either. 



Buying is buying big in every sense. The fees are huge in a market more ridiculous than ever, where £50 million is quoted by Tottenham for a player who isn’t even first choice for their position in their club.  

Romelu Lukaku was £75 million plus add-ons. When United staff ask Mourinho what his new 24-year-old striker is like, he says ‘big’ and purrs with the enthusiasm of a man satisfied with his new purchase. Other players marvel at the size of Lukaku’s feet and boots. Big things are expected of him, no excuses. Lukuku is fitting in well and looked entirely comfortable as he trained with the other giants in the United squad.

United could now field a squad of six footers. Since taking charge, Mourinho has signed 6 foot 2 defenders Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof. Paul Pogba, at 6’ 3”, is the second tallest outfield player.

Marouane Fellaini, a lofty many fans would have been happy to see leave, had a better chance of staying once Mourinho was appointed as manager. The Belgian was chosen by Mourinho to start the Europa League final because he can disrupt and offer an aerial threat. 

Defender Axel Tuanzebe, who is highly rated, is 6’ 1”. Every defender apart from Daley Blind is. And he was signed as a midfielder.

Mourinho’s only sub six foot signing has been Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but even he has Mark Hughes- size thighs, which he exposed in training by pulling his shorts up high like an extra in Wham’s Club Tropicana video. 

Lukaku isn’t only tall. At 220 lbs, he’s the heaviest United player by a distance, the only one above 200 lbs before the second heaviest, Sergio Romero, a man raised on Argentinian steaks.

It’s Lukaku who will attract much attention in the hope that he hits the ground running, providing goals like another giant, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Mourinho was asked about both in his first press conference, held in a room adjacent to the trophies and hall of fame of UCLA’s various sporting teams.

The very first question of the season from a journalist was about Lukaku, who was expected to make his United debut against LA Galaxy in the early hours on Saturday evening. He was asked what he would bring and if he was similar to Didier Drogba, one of the Mourinho’s most effective players. 

“I don’t compare, I don’t compare at all, one (Drogba) has his history and this one (Lukaku) is still in the beginning of his history,” said the Portuguese. “What he brings? Hopefully goals, he’s the kind of player that everybody knows is a striker so we’re not speaking about a multi-functional player or creating doubts about positions on the pitch.

“He’s a striker and normally strikers score goals and the reason why he was so important and difficult to get is because of what he did in the Premier League.”

“Obviously there are other good strikers in football but the Premier League is a very specific habitat, a difficult habitat, normally players need some time to adapt but Lukaku has played in the Premier League for the last four or five seasons so now he comes to a club with a different responsibility than Everton or West Bromwich Albion.”

Ideally, Mourinho wants players with Premier League experience but he also knows that Premier League teams are under almost no financial pressure to sell players. He was delighted to secure the Belgian.



“I think he comes in the right moment because he is young but still has years of experience with the Premier League and Belgian national team,” he said. “It’s his first CL competition which was his main motivation so the fact we qualified also played an important role.”

“Let’s try, he’s not a player that participates a lot in the build-up he’s a player that normally plays in the last third and we had so many opponents, especially at Old Trafford, that decided to defend in their low block, their defensive third, playing with lots of defensive players and we had in Zlatan that target man but his qualities are also dropping back and participating.

“But for the characteristics of the Premier League we need a target man, which is not Martial or Rashford, the clear nine, the one that is comfortable to play in the box and the defensive line. We thought Romelu would be a good option for us.”

United fans have greated Lukaku’s signing warmly, with relief and hope that he can do well. Like their manager, they want more signings – and that’s why Woodward is in Europe and not at the Beverly Hills Wilshere, the big hotel featured in Pretty Woman, with the rest of his of his staff.