Neil Humphreys: Lukaku capture a coup for Red Devils
United show real title intent by trying to steal Lukaku from Chelsea
Jose Mourinho hasn't just picked Chelsea's pockets. He's pulled off a daylight robbery.
When Manchester United unveil new signing Romelu Lukaku, Mourinho should be wearing a balaclava and waving a shotgun in the air.
This is the football heist of the summer, with enough Machiavellian material to fill a Netflix thriller.
Lukaku was going home to Chelsea. It was a done deal, an integral part of Antonio Conte's master plan to replace Diego Costa.
But, in a devilish raid, Mourinho effectively clubbed Conte over the head as the Italian made his way to the transfer market, leaving him with a bloody nose and bruised pride.
Chelsea's manager may struggle to recover.
Lukaku's expected defection to United from Everton is so much more than just a number.
The reported £75-million (S$134m) fee may explain why the Toffees have indulged in a spending spree in recent weeks, obviously aware that a fat cheque was on its way.
And, no, Lukaku isn't worth anywhere near £75m, a laughable sum that epitomises the vulgar, panic-stricken state of English football.
But his move to Old Trafford isn't so much about the money as it is United's mission statement.
Their title intent is now obvious, their willingness to play rough in the transfer market equally undeniable.
United are on the verge of pulling off a coup to rival Sir Alex Ferguson's capture of Eric Cantona in 1992, not in terms of talent - the Frenchman was in a different league - but in terms of the possible repercussions.
In the rise and rise of Conte's short career in the English Premier League, he looks foolish for the first time. The ghost of Chelsea's past has returned with a vengeance to haunt those who wrote him off.
Mourinho has beaten Conte, humbled him and embarrassed him. The knavish one has outmanoeuvred the new kid on the block, schooling him in the art of the last-minute deal.
On any sensible level, this should not have happened.
Chelsea hold the only domestic silverware that matters.
The billionaire Blues can match any offer thrown on the table by United. They're at home in swinging London, always the preferred location for nascent superstars.
And they're managed by the man of the moment: the great ball of fiery energy that is Antonio Conte.
But Lukaku didn't want to play the prodigal son. He played party pooper instead.
He opted to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic at United and the transfer market will react accordingly.
Players, agents, chairmen and their acolytes will put two and two together and come up with £75m.
All eyes will be on Old Trafford in the coming weeks.
Perhaps Mourinho rediscovered his mojo or vice-chairman Ed Woodward stumbled upon a newfound ruthlessness to make Lukaku an offer he couldn't refuse.
Either way, United are back in the game.
Conte and Chelsea supporters now loathe Mourinho with every fibre of their being.
The giggling schemer will of course be a million miles away from caring.
Yesterday, Mourinho was moaning about United's lacklustre transfer activity.
Today, he has momentum. That's what the signings of Swedish centre back Victor Lindelof and Lukaku now look like.
Others will follow.
The Belgian's impending arrival encourages restless, ambitious talents across Europe to ask pressing questions: What convinced Lukaku to reject the champions? What did Mourinho offer? How much are the Red Devils willing to invest to jump back on the title-winning gravy train?
They'll have to talk to United for the answers. And they will, thanks to Lukaku.
Prospective targets also see one of the most prized centre backs at one end of United's line-up and a striker who knocked in 25 EPL goals last season at the other.
Lukaku is still only 24. Lindelof is 22. Should Wayne Rooney follow Ibrahimovic through the exit, Mourinho will reduce both the average wage and age of his squad.
If the Lukaku deal goes through, United will become an enticing proposition, whilst humiliating Conte and damaging Chelsea's reputation at the same time.
If he can pinch another precious gem or two, he can seriously think about defeating Chelsea in the title race.