Jose Mourinho has made it clear that Romelu Lukaku deserves respect from Manchester United supporters after the Belgian was booed by segments of the Old Trafford crowd during the 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.
The 24-year-old, who made a superb start to his Man United career by claiming 11 goals in ten games, has now gone five matches without a goal.
And there were a couple of moments against Spurs when supporters vocalised their frustration at seeing mis-controlled pass or a poorly timed run from the striker, prompting Mourinho to address the issue after the game.
Speaking ahead of the clash with Benfica on Tuesday night, Mourinho was compelled to defend his £75m man once again.
“The fans are the fans and I also told that the fans paid their ticket,” he said. “They are free to express themselves the way they want to express but my job is to protect my players and I think Romelu is one of the players that should be untouchable in terms of the respect from everyone.
“It’s not one goal or one ball that hit the post or one that can make Romelu contribution below the top level, he’s playing extremely well for us and I have to protect my players when I feel they deserve it and Romelu always deserves it because what he does for the team is fantastic, and playing football for a striker is not just about scoring goals.
“So untouchable in my team and also in the support and respect he deserves from the fans.”
Now, there will always be a pocket of ‘fans’ at Old Trafford, or any big ground, who end up booing somebody for not doing what they, in their eyes, paid to come and see.
And Lukaku, with this in mind, never looked like scoring against Spurs, which in turn magnified other less coveted aspects of his game often ignored and caused these ‘fans’ to let loose.
But I would like to think, if only for my own sanity, that United supporters would not boo a new signing less than three months into his Old Trafford career – especially somebody who has already made his mark.
The only exception to this was when, midway through the second half, Lukaku didn’t chase after a ball that he could have got to. That, in my view, merits derision: lack of ability shouldn’t be chastised, whereas a lack of effort needs to be pounced upon right away.