If Pep Guardiola asked Kevin De Bruyne which striker he would like to provide the goals for at Manchester City next season, the answer would surely be Romelu Lukaku.
KDB and Big Rom have formed a formidable partnership for Belgium – something that has not gone unnoticed at the Etihad as they scour the globe for a centre-forward capable of filling Sergio Aguero’s boots.
City have been priced out of a move for Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland and their hopes of prising Harry Kane away from Tottenham look to be heading the same way after having a £100million bid for the England captain rejected.
But Lukaku also features prominently on the Premier League champions’ wish-list – and Inter Milan are unlikely to adopt the same stance as Spurs chairman Daniel Levy after a season which saw them lift the Scudetto for the first time in over a decade, but facing bankruptcy in the aftermath of the pandemic.
De Bruyne and Lukaku do not just have a telepathic understanding on the pitch – they are big mates off it after becoming close when Jose Mourinho was successfully freezing them out at Chelsea almost a decade ago.
Even when they became rivals in Manchester – Lukaku spent two unproductive years at United, while De Bruyne was winning titles with City – they remained close.
And De Bruyne believes the picture of them celebrating Lukaku’s goal against Finland in the Euros last week – assisted, of course, by the midfielder – illustrates their relationship perfectly.
De Bruyne said: “I love that picture of the two of us. It is everything.
“The atmosphere, the combination of black and white players. It shows diversity. That’s what makes the photo beautiful.” Lukaku posted the picture on his Instagram account with the caption ‘Lethal combination’.
And their lethal link-up play is why Belgium look capable of turning their status as the world’s top-ranked team into something tangible like the European crown.
The Red Devils face defending champions Portugal in Seville on Sunday.
And their fans will be hoping to see the handshake celebration that has become an iconic feature of their two most productive players.
Both love watching American sports – and De Bruyne said: “You see this kind of celebration in the NBA.
“But, in all honesty, their handshakes are 10 times more complicated to do.
“This has become our handshake after a goal, although I don’t want to make it too much of a big thing.”
Their friendship started with some light-hearted banter after Lukaku filmed De Bruyne having a nap on the bus taking Chelsea to an away game and posted the footage on social media.
The striker can be heard saying, “You are caught sleeping, boy. Why are you bouncing your head? Nightmares?”
De Bruyne took it in good spirit.
Lukaku, who has scored 63 goals in 96 appearances for Belgium and is the nation’s all-time record marksman, said: “With Kevin, I have the best friendship in the entire national squad.
“We tell each other stuff that we don’t tell other people. We trust each other massively.”
The pair went their separate ways from Chelsea when De Bruyne joined Wolfsburg before moving to City for £55m in 2015.
Two years later, Lukaku joined him in Manchester, signing for United in a £75m deal after a productive time at Everton.
When Lukaku came under pressure at Old Trafford, there was no hesitation from De Bruyne in taking to social media to defend his pal.
The midfielder said: “People give Rom a lot of stick and he is a victim on social media, but Lukaku is a striker who will score 20 to 25 goals for Man United – and any other club.
“His goal ratio is insane. He belongs to the best strikers in the world.”
Pep Guardiola would be advised to take note.