Romelu Lukaku’s powerful opening strike in Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Brighton on Saturday was the striker’s 25th goal across all competitions, in what is becoming an increasingly impressive debut season at Old Trafford.
It means the Belgian international has become just the eighth player to score a quarter-century or more in their first campaign for United, which hoists him alongside notable alumni like Denis Law, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Dwight Yorke.
Following his switch from Everton last summer, 'Rom' has wasted little time in endearing himself to the Old Trafford faithful, converting on his first appearances for the Reds in the Premier League, UEFA Champions League and Emirates FA Cup. And with a potential ten games still remaining, there’s plenty of time for our no.9 to improve on what has already been an outstanding 2017/18.
But how many more strikes does Lukaku require to post the most prolific debut season in United history? To find out, we took a look at the seven other players to reach the hallowed 25-goal mark during their very first term in red…
RUUD VAN NISTELROOY (36 goals, 2001/02)
No striker in the club’s history has made an impact as explosive as Ruud van Nistelrooy and, incredibly, his 36-goal debut season came after a year spent on the sidelines following a cruciate knee ligament injury. Such a setback has proven terminal to the fledgling careers of plenty of footballers, but not Ruud. United had attempted to sign him in the summer of 2000, but the move fell through due to a failed medical and that traumatic injury, but Alex Ferguson would not be deterred. He kept in touch with the PSV Eindhoven forward and a year later van Nistelrooy arrived – and what havoc he would wreak upon the defences of England and Europe. His best season in M16 was his second, where he smuggled, blasted and poached 44 goals – propelling the Reds to the 2002/03 title – and he would reach 100 United strikes in just 131 games, but who can forget that first rampaging campaign? Those 36 goals represent the best achieved by a United player in their first season at the club.
Van Nistelrooy celebrates after scoring at Fulham in December 2001
BRIAN MCCLAIR (31 goals, 1987/88)
As sensational as the first sightings of Ruud in a red shirt were, he joined a team that had just won the title for a third consecutive season. A cursory glance at the midfield behind him on any given Saturday would have revealed at least one, if not all, of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Juan Sebastian Veron. Ammunition was not in short supply. By contrast, when Brian McClair rocked up in the summer of 1987, United had just finished 11th in Division One. No player had reached 25 goals in a season for the club since George Best in 1971/72. But the man soon to be affectionately known as ‘Choccy’ claimed 31 goals after transferring from Celtic, helping United reach second place in the league. He would go on to play a key role in the trophy-laden seasons that followed during the 1990s, but his first months at the club were vital in helping then-new manager Alex Ferguson demonstrate some early signs of progress.
McClair terrorises Chelsea during one of his early appearances for United
ROBIN VAN PERSIE (30 goals, 2012/13)
If Choccy was Sir Alex Ferguson’s first striking superstar at United, Robin van Persie was his last. Few players in football history are so influential that an entire championship is associated with their name, but the former Arsenal man’s influence on the Reds' 20th league title was extraordinary. After losing the 2011/12 title to Manchester City on goal difference, Sir Alex knew he needed a spark to reignite the team’s confidence and van Persie’s goals instantaneously lit a fire that burned throughout the entire season. The title was clinched by 11 points and, in league terms, the Dutchman’s 26 goals is the best tally supplied by a player in their first season at the club. Sadly, Robin was unable to replicate his blistering first 12 months in M16, as United stumbled following Sir Alex's retirement, and he left for Fenerbahce in 2015 having scored a very healthy 58 times in 105 appearances.
DWIGHT YORKE (29 goals, 1998/99)
The greatest season in the club’s history is now largely remembered through the prism of a manic 11-day period in which United sealed an unprecedented Treble, with wins over Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and Bayern Munich. Dwight Yorke failed to score in each of those three critical matches but, put simply, United would have been nowhere near a clean sweep of the three greatest trophies available to them if not for the Tobagonian’s contribution. His gleeful rapport with striking partner Andy Cole fuelled the Treble title throughout the less glamorous autumn and winter months, laying the platform for the orgasmic climax in Barcelona provided by Teddy Sheringham and Ole Solskjaer. Yorke’s goals were varied in style – encompassing impudent chips, diving headers and tap-ins – but his intelligence and enthusiasm were a nightmare for defences and a delight for team-mates. His first year at United would remain his best, but he won the title in each of his three full seasons at the club, finishing with 66 goals in 152 games.
DENIS LAW (29 goals, 1962/63)
You don’t earn a moniker like ‘the King’ for trundling around the pitch making up the numbers and, of all the players in this elite club, Denis Law’s appearance is perhaps least surprising. Matt Busby parted with a world-record fee to snare Law from Torino, and the man from Aberdeen was the first of United’s ‘holy trinity’ to win the Ballon d’Or. His unsurprisingly excellent first term culminated in the 1963 FA Cup final against Leicester City. Law opened the scoring with his 29th and final goal of the season, paving the way to the club’s first post-Munich trophy. The following campaign he blitzed 46 goals, which is still the most prolific season by an individual in United history. He would fail to reach 25 in just one of his first five seasons (falling one short in 1965/66) and his 237 career goals for United places him third in the club’s all-time goalscorers list. Of the top ten, only Dennis Viollet boasts a better scoring ratio than ‘the Lawman’.
Law in action for United during his successful debut season, 1962/63
ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC (28 goals, 2016/17)
Frustratingly, we’ll never know just how many goals the iconic Zlatan Ibrahimovic might have mustered in a full first season at Old Trafford. The Swede was felled by a traumatic knee injury with ten games of United’s successful 2016/17 campaign still remaining, after bagging 28 goals in 46 matches. Zlatan has been restricted to just seven appearances thus far this campaign – adding one further goal to his Reds tally – but his input during a season in which United claimed the Community Shield, League Cup and Europa League ensures his career at Old Trafford will be remembered fondly, whatever the future holds.
JACK PICKEN (25 goals, 1905/06)
The least known member of the first-season 25 club that Lukaku joined with his goal against Brighton was also its first member. Scotsman Jack Picken was signed from Plymouth Argyle in the summer of 1905, and notched 20 league goals and five FA Cup strikes during his maiden season at United. He would eventually lose his place in the first team due to the emergence of Sandy Turnbull, who would trump Picken’s 25 goals with a then-club record 27 in 1907/08. Incidentally, Turnbull joined midway through the preceding campaign, which means, like Eric Cantona after him (25 goals in 1993/94), he earns honorary membership for reaching our milestone during the first full season he spent at the club.