Football Expert @ThierryHenry
When Thierry Henry met Man Utd striker Romelu Lukaku...
Last Updated: 09/03/18 9:28pm
Ahead of Manchester United’s showdown with Liverpool this weekend, Sky Sports pundit Thierry Henry sat down with Romelu Lukaku to discuss everything from facing the Reds, his move to Old Trafford and relationship with boss Jose Mourinho, where his game can improve and the potential of a north v south all-star game.
Lukaku heads into Saturday lunchtime's clash - which you can see live on Sky Sports Premier League - with four goals in his last four games, while so far in his debut campaign at United the forward has managed to score 23 times and contribute seven assists in 41 matches in all competitions.
With the 24-year-old currently sat on 99 Premier League goals, Lukaku could become the fifth youngest player to reach 100 in the competition were he to find the net against United's fierce rivals.
However, all eyes will be on Lukaku on Saturday with the Belgium international having scored just 16 times in 64 top-flight matches against so-called 'big six' sides.
I want to be known for my all-round game as it is something people don't think I can do
Henry, who coaches the player in his role as Belgium assistant manager, scored 176 Premier League goals for Arsenal during his time in England.
So, whether it is the joy of assist making, the pressure of playing up front at a club the size of United, how to become all all-round centre-forward, or dealing with criticism, the duo discuss it all in a wide-ranging and frank interview…
Henry (TH): I saw that you were talking about wanting to have an all-star game - north v south - but do you really think that can be done?
Lukaku (RL): I think so. I saw a few weeks ago that they're trying to put a winter break in the Premier League, so I think one of those weeks should be a week - or three days, basically a weekend - where all the players should be involved in charities all over the country and do stuff for the community. I think the players who have to participate in the all-star game should be former professionals who have brought something to the game and players themselves instead of fans and journalists.
TH: So how do you see it - north v south?
RL: Yeah, north v south and then, of course, you have the Midlands, so you'd have to put a line and then let the players vote on who's the captain, making a squad of 18 players. And that's it, you play against each other. I'd make the 18 for sure…!
TH: Why for sure?
RL: Because… I don't want to sound cocky, but… I'm just saying, if you put the two No 9s together from up north, it is me and Sergio Aguero and then you have Roberto Firmino - you'd have three strikers in the 18 and I've just said the three already - and then you have the wingers and you can choose all the rest, but I know I'd be in the 18 for sure.!
RL: You have to believe in your ability.
TH: Who is else is going to do it if you're not going to do it?
RL: That's what I'm trying to say!
TH: Let's go back to the real stuff. Listen, now you can feel what it's like to be a Man Utd centre-forward - it is not easy.
TH: Because you get judged on -
TH: Yeah and on what you're not doing. I think at the minute, and what you're been doing since the start of 2018, has been really good, especially what people were calling you out for. Goals, assists, people are not even mentioning the assists you are having right now. You are playing for your striking partners and your wingers. You could have had three assists against Leicester, I think, off the top of my head, there was a pass for Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard and you are scoring goals now. You are also flicking the ball better. What do you have to say about that?
RL: I think it is something I have always said, that I'd like to give more assists and be more of a player who is evolving in the game. I think that was the next step in my game. I always score goals, but I always thought that I would give really nice assists at Everton. And at United, you have a bigger chance to give more assists. To be able to create more for my team means I can be more dangerous because then, sometimes people will get further away from me because I can score goals and then go myself. Or if I'm in a tight situation, I know I can put the ball well enough into the box for other players to score.
TH: I remember an amazing assist you have to Yannick Bolasie I think it was…
RL: Ahh yes, it was (Arouna) Kone, with the outside of the left foot around the defence.
TH: There was another one where there was a flick over the defence.
RL: I did that a lot…
TH: Oh wow, I only remembered one. Is it because, at Everton for example, you knew that if you didn't score, it was going to be a little bit difficult, so you took it upon yourself to score goals. Do you see that now you can share that a bit more with the guys and you understand that a bit better?
RL: Yeah of course. At Everton, it was a great step in my career because I learned a lot of stuff there, such as coping with being the main man of the team, coping with being under pressure. I think that prepared me really well for United, although this is a whole different type of pressure, but it is something that I always wanted because I said it loud and clear that I wanted to play for a big club. I am grateful for the opportunity I have.
I started really well and then I went through a spell where I had to learn other stuff in my game. I think the November/December period was difficult for me, but it was a period where I think I had to prepare myself to do other stuff. And I think my understanding with my team-mates became much better after that. From January onwards, I've been going from strength to strength. I'm doing well right now, but I want to keep improving because I think with my young age, there is a lot of stuff to be done. And I relish the challenge to become a better player than I am now.
TH: Right now, you are on seven assists and 14 goals, so you've been involved in 21 goals. When you look at some of the others in the league at the top, which is what they will compare you to, for example Harry Kane with the amount of goals he has at the minute, I think he is on two assists. So you're not far from him technically in terms of goal involvement.
RL: It something that I would say… I would normally be up there, like last year or the year before, I was up there. But this year, I had the dry spell in November and December, where there was a gap, and now things are becoming even better. But also the assists are going up so I think, at the end of the day, I will be up there in terms of goals. However, with assists, I really want to be up there as well because I want to be known for my all-round game as it is something that people don't think I can do. With the assists now, I've found the pleasure in giving an assist, the same like you had.
TH: The joy, you like to share? The question I wanted to ask you now - is it only about goals for a striker? Because I didn't see it like that.
RL: Scoring goals is the best thing ever. I've always played as a striker since I was a kid, I've never played in another position because my dad would come and speak to the manager right away.
TH: Mine was the same!
RL: One time, I remember they tried to put me in the No 10 position and I even retired from the national youth teams because they tried to play me as a left winger.
RL: Yeah I stopped playing.
TH: How can you retire when you've just started?!
RL: I was 15.
TH: He retired at 15.
RL: Yeah, from 14, I didn't play for anyone until I was playing for the first team because I was playing as a left winger. I said, 'no I'm not coming anymore' and I focused myself on development at Anderlecht. After a year and a half, I was in the first team.
TH: I want to talk about Jose Mourinho. We all have an idea, or we think we have an idea, of how the man is. Whether you like him or not, you have to respect the man because he has been tremendous in his career. But one thing I noticed is that you always play, you and David de Gea are the first guys that he is thinking of in his team. How good has he been for you?
RL: He has been really good, but I think he knows I have that soldier mentality. I think the work rate I am delivering to the team is a lot and he knows he can come to me whenever. I will always put the team first ahead of myself and that's something I told him. I said, 'the team is the most important thing'. The desire to win is bigger than ever now since I came to this club because I always wanted to win and to chase trophies. I always put that in front of my personal objectives and he knows that and I think that's the reason why I'm playing all the time. Also with David, he is really reliable and Sergio Romero is doing really well when he plays.
TH: And Matic as well, sorry. Now I'm thinking about it, Matic as well.
RL: I think the manager in his mind thinks that I'm like his sergeant on the pitch. And that's strange for a striker because it's usually the midfielders, but I've always worked hard and I'm grateful. But at the end of the day, I'm a striker and I have to score goals.
TH: And give assists.
RL: And give assists too. It's something different, but I feel the joy in it. When I give an assist sometimes, it's like, 'yeah'. I get that feeling.
TH: It's weird, I've watched almost all of your games this year because I have to. Your reaction to the goal from Jesse Lingard the other day, you don't even celebrate your own goals like that. The joy you had, you jumped, you went right and left, it was a different type of joy, but you don't celebrate your goals like that. I used to celebrate my assists more with joy and goals with rage, it's kind of weird, but that celebration was amazing.
RL: It's because I want to win. When you want to win, sometimes it takes you somewhere. I can be nasty when I play and hard on my team-mates, especially when we do small games, I can be hard. But at the end of the day, I want to win. Winning is the most important thing. People will always remember the winners, the players who won the trophies and did stuff to the game to improve. At the end of the day, I'm at a club where a lot of great players have been. And for me, to be here now, I will not be happy if I am here and didn't win anything. At the end of the day, I want to lift a trophy.
TH: We are going to have to talk about the game [against Liverpool]. You played in the first one and I know you. I don't want bring it back, but I have to. I know you are thinking about that one versus one.
RL: Yeah I was.
TH: Because I would. At the end of the game, I would be waiting to play Liverpool again because of whatever people were saying about whatever happened. How are you mentally right now, how long have you been waiting for this game?
RL: To be fair, it's an important game for us as a team and I don't want to make it something personal. Not in a bad way, but I was thinking about it for the next two games like, 'should I have played it at the first post?'
TH: So for two games after, you were thinking about it? It's important for you to say that because people sometimes think players do not care. But it's important for you to say that it does hurt sometimes.
RL: No, I do care. At the end of the day, you want to win, so when you are in a situation where you can make your team win, and you don't, it stays in your mind. Not a lot of players will admit it, but I don't care what the people think. However, it stayed in my mind because at that time, the situation comes into your head again - 'what should I do?' I made a decision that I wanted to go across the goalkeeper, the contact on the ball was not enough to give the goalkeeper enough problems, or enough power. I went more for placement, rather than really going through the ball, and for about two weeks I was thinking about it. But then I moved on. Now it is a new game and a new opportunity. For us, if we win, we create a gap. If they win, they go ahead of us by one point, so it's going to be an important game for both of us.
But we're ready. We had two good games, the desire is here, the competition for places is here and we're ready.
TH: Do you listen to what everyone is saying at Liverpool at the minute?
RL: No. To be honest with you, I do not watch games with them, so I do not know how other teams are doing in the top six. I do not really care about them, I only care about me and my team-mates. Two or three days before a game, that is when I start preparing, watching clips and what they do. Throughout the rest of the season, I do not watch any other team. I like to watch the strikers, as I like to take something from their games, but I do not watch the other teams in the top six. You hear people talking, saying, 'They are great at the start of the season,' but then they have their dry spell… If I see that they are playing well at the minute, that is what I am going to believe, I am not going to believe somebody else because they played two good games. No, I am not going to do that. A team has their strong points and their weak points, and the weak points are always there with any team. Every team in the league has their weak points, but it is about your team and how to exploit it. My preparation starts this afternoon, I will start watching clips, what they do, to be well prepared for the game.
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