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Ademola Lookman: From Obscurity to a Football Hero

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Ademola Lookman made history during the Europa League final, becoming the first player to score a hat-trick in a Europa League final. It was an emotional moment for a player who didn’t nail a starting position in his previous teams. Like many upcoming football talents, Lookman had a promising start and struggled to reach the next level. In this piece, we recount his footballing story.

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Ademola Lookman’s Early Career

Ademola Lookman playing for Charlton Athletic. Source: Wikimedia licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0

Ademola Lookman’s full name is Ademola Olajade Alade Aylola Lookman. He was born in Wandsworth, England to Nigerian parents. He went to St Thomas the Apostle College in Peckham and excelled, scoring five As, four Bs and one C.

As a child of immigrant parents in London, life wasn’t easy. His father worked in Nigeria and his mother in London. According to him, she did all kinds of jobs to provide for the family. 

Growing up in a low-income environment, Lookman could have easily been pulled into the wrong crowds, but he consciously avoided them, so as not to attract trouble for himself and his family. Hence his focus on education and sport.

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Ademola Lookman’s Career

Despite attending numerous football trials in London, clubs overlooked Lookman. As such, he played in the Sunday League for WaterLoo FC. It wasn’t until he was 16 years old that the footballer started getting concerned about his football ambitions.

Fortune smiled at him when his team played against Charlton FC in a friendly match. A teammate got injured and Lookman got a place in the team. He produced a convincing display and Charlton drafted him into their ranks.

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Charlton FC

Ademola Lookman playing for Derby. Source: Wikimedia licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0

Lookman received a scholarship and played for Charlton between 2013 and 2015. His game improved and within this period, received a place on the team’s senior side. According to FBREF, Lookman was available for 49 games and started 35 for Charlton Athletic. 

In 2017, he moved to the Premier League side Everton FC on a four-and-a-half-year deal. This was where the Nigerian international was supposed to bloom. However, things didn’t go as planned. Across three seasons, he was available for 45 games and started 12.

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Ademola Lookman at RB Leipzig

In between, he was loaned to RB Leipzig in Germany but had an underwhelming show. In 2019, he decided to make a permanent move to the German team on a five-year contract. After one year, he was loaned to Fulham and Leicester City

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He struggled for form and perhaps there wasn’t a way back in for him. However, Italian side Atalanta reportedly paid €15 million for his services, handing him a four-year contract.

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Ademola Lookman at Atalanta

Contrary to his previous stints, Lookman got a fast start in Italy. In his first season, he scored in his first game against Sampdoria and completed the season with 13 goals and six assists. He was the fifth-highest scorer. 

In the 2023/24 campaign, Lookman notched 10 goals and six assists, scoring five in the Europa League, including three against Bayer Leverkusen in the final. Although it guarantees Atalanta a place in the Champions League (UCL) next season, they already qualified for the tournament after securing fifth place in Serie A.

The player said he wishes he’d moved to Italy sooner but he understands the game now more than he previously did. 

International Football

Like many players who have dual nationalities, Lookman started in the England setup and played for different age groups. He was part of the U-20 FIFA World Cup in 201 winning side.  

Nigeria reached out to him multiple times but he turned them down. However, he switched allegiance in 2022 after failing to break into the English setup. He debuted for the Super Eagles in a World Cup qualifier match against Ghana.

At the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cote d’Ivoire, Lookman scored thrice as Nigeria finished second. He acknowledges the country’s support and says it’s helped him settle in and produce his best game.

Ademola Lookman has been in the trenches and out. In the toughest times, he continued playing and finally found his footing at Atalanta. It’s easy for fans to criticize players when they aren’t performing well. But, as Lookman shows, the right environment can bring out the best in anyone.  

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