There were plenty of talking points from Manchester United’s game with Inter Milan at the National Stadium on Saturday but probably none more so than the continuing uncertainty over the future of Romelu Lukaku.
News filtered through just hours before kick-off that United had rejected a £54 million bid from the Italian club for the Belgium striker, who was missing again with what is officially being cited as an ankle injury.
Lukaku may have played no part in the match but he was seen chatting with Inter staff on the pitch after the game and later, as the players were walking through the mixed zone area where interviews are conducted, the Belgian was spotting holding an Inter shirt. No other United player seemed to be doing so, even if they are likely to have also swapped shirts with their Inter counterparts. Whether or not Lukaku was trying to make a point, he will hope United and Inter can finally reach an agreement this week with the clock ticking. United are due to head to Shanghai on Monday ahead of Thursday’s game against Tottenham Hotspur.
Another United player facing an uncertain future at Old Trafford, Paul Pogba, was spotted happily catching up with Antonio Conte, the Inter coach, after United’s 1-0 win. Pogba spent two years playing under the former Chelsea manager at Juventus and the pair were deep in conversation on the pitch.
Whether Pogba’s future at Old Trafford was raised, Conte was not for telling, but they did discuss the recent birth of the player’s baby son.
“Paul’s highly regarded in my mind, we had a few words also because he’s recently had a child but the rest of what we said will remain between us,” Conte said.
Pogba’s hopes of a dream move to Real Madrid appear to hinge heavily on the Spanish giants being able to offload high earners to free up cash to finance a bid that might tempt United to sell their £160 million rated midfielder. In that regard, Zinedine Zidane’s claims that Gareth Bale is “very close to leaving” and that Real are “working on his transfer to a new team” will doubtless interest Pogba.
Whatever concerns or frustrations United fans may harbour with the new Premier League season only three weeks away, the fact that all seven of their goals in three matches on their pre-season tour of Australia and Asia have either been scored or assisted by academy graduates must be a source of considerable encouragement. Mason Greenwood got his second goal in as many games with a stunning strike to down Inter, Marcus Rashford also has two goals on tour, James Garner one while Phil Jones’s header against Leeds was assisted by Andreas Pereira and Anthony Martial’s penalty in the same game won by Tahith Chong, from a pass by Angel Gomes.
It was hard to detect the smattering of Inter shirts amid the sea of red at the National Stadium although not every United player enjoyed the fullest of support. Whether it was boos of the pantomime kind or not, it was not particularly nice to see Ashley Young being loudly booed by United supporters. He was jeered when his name was read out before kick-off, as his early touches of the ball were, too, not least when he miscontrolled in one instance, but those inside the ground had changed their tune by the time Young’s free-kick was beaten away and Greenwood gobbled up the rebound. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the United manager, expressed hope there would be no repeat of the boos and said he would talk to the player.
There was one sight you don’t see too often at the National Stadium on Saturday. The cameras swooped around the ground before kick-off, picking out different fans from the crowd, but the biggest cheers were reserved for the woman - decked out in United clobber - who dropped to one knee, pulled out a ring and proposed to her boyfriend, also dressed in a United shirt. Fortunately, he said ‘yes’ and hugs and kisses ensued in front of 52,000 crowd.