DEFINED BY YOUR START?

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There is a lesson in Martial Arts 101 that will emphasize rhythm above all else. The science behind it is somewhere along the lines of; if you get into a rhythm, you start to listen to your body and suddenly you can fully exploit your physiological attributes. Perhaps this is what Chinese actor Donnie Yen was trying to trump home when he famously said ”For me, shooting editing and scoring rely on rhythm.” Now, we know, Yen obviously does it for the camera, but it’s sobering that he attributes the same fundamentals of Martial Arts to the scripted stuff.

Mr. Donnie Yen, in all probability, wasn’t making reference to the art of goal-scoring in that quote but there’s a funny odd ‘thing’ about the people who (primarily do what many feel is the most important job in football to) score goals that smacks of a wonder as to whether they’re more reliant on rhythm than we probably care to understand.

Exhibit A: Diego Forlan: History will remember the Uruguayan as one of the game’s great achievers if only for his remarkable exploits at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa in which he picked up the MVP Award. The history of that award alone suggests that no mug ever won it and Diego was head and shoulders over and above everybody else in terms of his  personal contribution to his national team. Yet, for all his goodwill at the club and that unforgettable pair of goals scored in the Anfield sunshine on that afternoon, Forlan never really hit the required levels of consistency at the club.

Exhibit B: Andriy Shevchenko: Another of the modern great strikers whose records and achievements will stand the test of time. The great Ukrainian however struggled to find his goal switch at Chelsea in the premier league. You knew there was bags and bags quality in there somewhere but it never really came to the fore as a slow start eventually fizzed out the deathly qualities in front of goal Europe had grown to fear.

Exhibit C: Fernando Torres: We know what he was at Athletico Madrid. We also know that he was the embodiment of Liverpool’s close challenge for the 2008/2009 league title that we thankfully eventually won. One transfer to Chelsea later, and the Spaniard lost his goal-scoring touch so much that there’s dedicated You Tube clips to his missed chances at open goals alone. The lads at the Stretford End probably remember one of them. On that occasion, with Chelsea already trailing 3-1 to United, Torres was put through on goal at an angle, managed to get round De Gea so that he was central to an open goal, but somehow found the Stretford End instead!

The list could go on in terms of the big hitters of their day but in order to get the balance in the hypothesis right, we’ll add a couple of less stellar names

Exhibit D: Sadio Berahino: Stoke City eventually got their man from West Brom after a protracted transfer saga, but the Burundian born Englishman has since failed to so much as score a goal for the Potteries. Indeed, his bearings are so lost that he has fought to take the penalties if only to get just one goal to his name. Incredibly, he has missed all four penalties taken!

Exhibit E: Roberto Soldado: Suffice to say that the player we all knew at Valencia CF was not the player Tottenham Hotspur signed. [Of course the list could go on and on…]

When contrasted with strikers who managed to get into the grove quickly for their new clubs, an argument can be made that the latter group thrived off the confidence that comes with a great start after a pressure transfer.

For Romelu Lukaku, the template was very much set in stone if he was to start his Manchester United career on the right trajectory. United’s successful Number ‘9s’ down the years, from the recent success of Robin van Persie to the standards set by Andrew Cole, are synonymous with fast starts to their careers at Old Trafford. Indeed, on Saturday, it was Andy Cole’s record of 7 league goals in 7 games that Lukaku matched. Should he find the net at Anfield (and you cannot bet against it), the Belgian will rank out on his own as having the best start to a premier league season by a Manchester United striker. That would be some feat, considering those who’ve come before.

At times the goals have come so naturally to him that it feels like he is in a rhythm from which he cannot help himself but score. Take the game against Everton for instance when it seemed like he was going to draw a blank. After a poor free-kick, he nonchalantly ghosted into the area in more hope than expectation that the ball would find its way to him for a simple tap in. Perhaps more importantly, Lukaku has become the embodiment of Jose Mourinho’s tactical plan in a way that explains the manager’s stance at praising his overall contribution without paying much attention to the goals. Jose now knows he has a player who can put in a shift and take a chance, perhaps the only chance, in a game that will require United to put the shackles on as was apparent away at Southampton a couple of weeks ago.

More than anything though, Lukaku’s start to his United career has rendered the transfer fee debate moot and bought him enough credit in the proverbial bank to go a few games without scoring without necessarily impacting on his confidence. For a player who still attracts criticism from pundits despite leading the premier league goal scoring charts, a start as good as he’s had was simply the only play he had. In effect, he has probably made his first season at the club that much easier. Should United pick up trophies next year on the back of his goals, he’ll be surprised how fast United fans can anoint a cult hero.

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