Jose Mourinho and Manchester United were warned against a £75 million ($97m) deal for “big baby” Romelu Lukaku by Everton’s former director of football Steve Walsh, but paid no attention.
Back in the summer of 2017, the Red Devils were in the market for a proven Premier League goalscorer and set their sights on Belgium international Lukaku at Goodison Park.
Walsh, who had previously worked with then United manager Mourinho at Chelsea, tried to tell those at Old Trafford that they were taking a big-money gamble on a player who lacked the mental strength to represent one of the world’s biggest clubs.
His words fell on deaf ears, with a man whose transfer nous contributed significantly to Leicester’s stunning title triumph in 2015-16 telling The Athletic of Mourinho and United: “He would be the first to admit that he probably needs to reinvent himself now a little bit.
“Obviously, it didn’t go right at United. Pep Guardiola was asked in an interview with a newspaper how he accounted for his success. He said 80 per cent of it was recruitment. I think Jose may have lost sight of that fact.
“You have to work out what you want and need. Don’t try to attract players with no plan: ‘He’s available so we will take him.’
“Alexis Sanchez is a good example. During the title-winning season we only lost three times but two of those were against Arsenal. They pasted us at Leicester, 5-2. We played well and Jamie [Vardy] scored a remarkable goal, but Sanchez was outstanding that day. He was instrumental in both games.
“But it is not about collecting players, it is about having a clear plan and a strategy of how you want to play.
“When Jose signed Romelu Lukaku from Everton, I remember saying to him, ‘You have to be careful with Lukaku. He is a big baby, you know.’ He said he could handle him.
“I don’t think he really got Lukaku on-side mentally, which you have to do. That is the case with him and Paul Pogba. They aren’t my type of players. They are more about themselves than the team. I wouldn’t have touched them. Because they are good players doesn’t mean you are going to get a good team out of it.”
Lukaku and Pogba are not the only recruitment calls Walsh feels United have got wrong in recent times, with questions asked of why they invested £50m ($65m) in the relatively untested Aaron Wan-Bissaka when they could have taken England international Kieran Trippier from Tottenham.
Walsh added: “United have made a lot of signings. Look at £50 million for Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
“Now, perhaps it is too early and he will improve, but my eyes tell me when he gets the ball he is not the best. He is a good athlete and very quick, strong, and a good defender, but United don’t need a good defender, they need someone who can play, get on the ball.
“If I had been at United, I would have said, ‘Put your £50 million away, go and get Kieran Trippier for half that. He is an England international. He isn’t a great defender or a physical specimen, but he can play right-back and get the ball in early and you have strikers who can score goals.’ It is common sense.”
United’s struggles in the transfer market have left them playing catch-up on domestic and European rivals, with it suggested that at least two years of positive recruitment will be required from the Red Devils in order for them to close back in on those challenging for major honours at home and abroad.