Romelu Lukaku could be banned for three games including the Manchester derby for an apparent off-the-ball kick at Brighton & Hove Albion’s Gaëtan Bong in Saturday’s 1-0 win, if the incident went unseen by the match officials.
Television pictures appear to show Lukaku kicking Bong at the 66th-minute corner from which Ashley Young’s deflected shot gave United victory.
If the Football Association establishes that the referee, Neil Swarbrick, or his assistants were unaware of it, then Lukaku will be referred to the panel of three former referees who adjudicate retrospective cases.
All three have to agree it is a straight red card for Lukaku to be banned for three matches. If so the striker, who is United’s top scorer with 12 goals in all competitions, would miss Tuesday’s trip to Watford, Saturday’s visit of Arsenal and the Manchester derby on Sunday-week.
Against Brighton Lukaku failed to find the net for the ninth time in 10 matches but José Mourinho insisted he was unconcerned. “He didn’t score,” the Manchester United manager said. “I don’t care.” The Portuguese can be a master of deception and diversionary tactics. Sometimes, however out of character it may appear, he is simply voicing an honest opinion.
Because when Lukaku was averaging a goal a game, Mourinho’s mantra was that it did not matter. When his biggest summer signing opened his league account against West Ham, his manager averred that there was “no pressure from me”. After Lukaku struck in the win over his former club Everton, Mourinho said: “He knows that for me there is no pressure for goalscoring.” When flood has given way to drought, United’s manager has displayed a consistency of argument.
His demands stretch beyond putting the ball in the net. His talismanic strikers, from Didier Drogba to Diego Costa, have been scorers but also warriors. No one else was named in his evaluation of Lukaku’s display against Brighton on Saturday but there were echoes of his quintessential centre-forwards and an old United attacker alike.
There are recurring themes. Mourinho cherishes a commitment to the collective. He calls for individuals to subsume themselves to a greater cause. He wants champagne footballers to display the work ethic of water carriers. He likes an absence of ego in the way they approach their defensive duties.
Lukaku ticked his boxes. “In the last minute he was fighting and running back like he was in the first minute so I think it is also a mentality question,” his manager said. United’s winner stemmed from a contentious corner. The way Lukaku won it, Mourinho suggested, was “phenomenal”. Much of a penalty-box poacher’s best work came near corner flags at either end of the pitch.
On a day when the left-back claimed the winner – “I think the rule is if it is on target then they give you the benefit of the doubt so I’ll launch an appeal for it to be my goal,” said Ashley Young, whose deflected shot was debited as a Lewis Dunk own goal – the supposed finisher finished up as an auxiliary full-back; it was Mourinho, after all, who turned Samuel Eto’o into an ancillary right-back in Inter’s 2010 Champions League victory.