Man United plan to use Wayne Rooney as makeweight in bid to hijack Romelu Lukaku move to Chelsea
Manchester United are planning to use Wayne Rooney as a makeweight in a dramatic bid to hijack Chelsea’s efforts to sign Romelu Lukaku from Everton.
Antonio Conte has told Chelsea’s board to pay whatever it takes to land Lukaku but United have been given fresh encouragement in their own pursuit of the £100 million-rated Belgium striker and believe they can pip the Premier League champions for his signature.
United’s hand has been strengthened by Everton’s desire to re-sign Rooney, 13 years after he left Goodison Park for Old Trafford.
Bill Kenwright, the Everton chairman, held talks with Rooney’s agent, Paul Stretford, in London on Wednesday as the Merseyside club close in on a deal for the England striker.
United have been in talks with Real Madrid over Spain striker Alvaro Morata but negotiations are understood to have been complicated by the European champions’ desire to prise David De Gea away from Old Trafford.
What materialises with Morata, who has been trying to force through a move to Old Trafford, remains to be seen but Lukaku was Jose Mourinho’s first choice to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Senior sources at Old Trafford indicated that the club have been quietly working behind the scenes on a deal for Lukaku for several weeks amid wider public expectations that he was destined for Chelsea.
Lukaku's preference has been to return to Chelsea, who have been confident the Belgian only had his sights set on a move there.
Mourinho sold Lukaku to Everton when he was Chelsea manager for £28m in 2014 but believes he has the attributes he wants to lead the line for United and bring more firepower to an attack that managed just 54 goals in 38 league games last term.
With rather unfortunate timing, former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson – who is still a club director - branded Lukaku’s agent, Mino Raiola, a “s--- bag” while giving a motivational speech to rugby union side Sale Sharks this week when asked about Paul Pogba’s departure from Old Trafford in 2012.
Ferguson blamed Raiola for Pogba leaving, although United’s current hierarchy have good relations with the agent, who also represents United forward Henrikh Mkhitaryan and will reportedly earn £41m from the world-record £89m deal that took Pogba back to Old Trafford last summer.
Chelsea have yet to make a formal bid for Lukaku but they will not give up on the striker without a fight, not least given the onus Conte has placed on bringing the target man he wants to succeed Diego Costa to Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho is understood to have been left increasingly frustrated by United’s failure to wrap up more signings by now but the potential capture of Lukaku would go some way towards placating the Portuguese.
It is hard to imagine United would allow Rooney to depart before they have signed another centre-forward given that it would leave Mourinho with Marcus Rashford as his only recognised striker. Anthony Martial can also operate in the position but was mainly used out wide by Mourinho.
United’s players are due to report for pre-season on Saturday and it remains to be seen if Rooney flies with the rest of the squad to Los Angeles 24 hours later for the start of the club’s tour of the US.
Farhad Moshiri, Everton’s majority shareholder, recognises the commercial value in signing Rooney and various options have been discussed in terms of financing the player’s basic £240,000-a-week salary, which has previously been a stumbling block.
Everton have already signalled their ambition by spending almost £100 million on five new signings this summer and also want £40m-rated Gylfi Sigurdsson from Swansea.