Jose Mourinho has suggested that Romelu Lukaku will struggle to match Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United achievements, because the Premier League has become a much more demanding competition.
Lukaku has made an impressive start to his United career since arriving from Everton for £75million in July, a day after Rooney made the move in the opposite direction.
The 24-year-old has scored six times in his first six appearances for United, in addition to scoring the goal against Greece in early September that secured Belgium’s place at next year’s World Cup finals.
He faces a major challenge, though, to match Rooney, who left Everton for United and became their all-time record scorer, with 253 goals during his 13 years at Old Trafford, winning the Champions League once and the Premier League five times.
The former England captain was only 18 when he arrived at United from Everton for £25.6m in August 2004, and Mourinho does not believe Lukaku will have the time to match Rooney’s achievements.
The Belgian however did score 87 goals in 166 Everton games.
United’s manager also argues that Rooney had an easier job scoring goals at United, because the Premier League was a more attack-minded competition for much of his time at the club.
Mourinho said: "I think Wayne spent probably 10 years of his career in a different Premier League than you have now.
"It was a Premier League where it was easier to score goals, not just because of the difference between the top teams and others but also because of the profile and the tactical interpretation of the competition. I think this Premier League is much more defensive-minded, and much more difficult."
Even so, Mourinho is of the view that Lukaku will continue to benefit from playing in a United side who carry more attacking threat than they did last season.
The United manager is insistent that his team’s success or failure will not depend solely on the form of their main striker, pointing out that they only finished sixth in the Premier League last season despite the contribution of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored 28 goals in all competitions.
Ibrahimovic, who is recovering from cruciate knee ligament damage, is likely to play a significant part in the second half of the season after signing a new one-year contract in August, offering Lukaku competition for his place in United’s attack.
"It’s not just about the striker," Mourinho said. "A striker is very important but last season we had a very good striker for two-thirds of the season and that was not enough to win the title.
"So it’s not just the striker. I think that Romelu has a better team than Zlatan had. Romelu’s team plays different football and the confidence levels are different and it is a team in the second year of its evolution in some aspects.
"But I think he also deserves credit for that because of the way he plays, the way he is committed, what he does with and without the ball, not just the last touch and the goal but his overall contribution. We couldn’t be happier."
Mourinho refused to enter into any debate as to how Lukaku and Ibrahimovic compare.
He said: "I am not going to compare. I think it’s very stupid to compare the incomparable. When players are similar, you can compare. When players are so different, there is no point in comparing. I am not going to do that."