19 September 2018

Nigeria: FT Hidden Gems Series - the Short-Gun, Ademola Lookman

opinion

Most of us might be familiar with the name Lookman because of the latest headline about him snubbing the chance to represent England for an African team. Aside from that, there is little known about the teenage prodigy that has been shaking the ground in the minor age groups but is still giving a headache to his current coach at Everton FC. Ademola Lookman is one of the many players in world football that we zoom into their career to understand what they are about.

Background

The 20-year old started his professional career at Charlton Athletic where he made his senior debut as a forward. In 2017, he was snapped up by Everton in a deal reported to be around £11 million which topped the world transfer news. The player has since been used as a winger to date. Before that, Ademola had attended St Thomas the Apostle College where he attained 3 A* and 5 As before pursuing his passion for football. As football fans, we appreciate the support from his family who encouraged him to pursue sport as a professional career ahead of academia. In the African context, it is not quite often that parents embolden their children to play soccer especially when their kids are A students like Lookman. Just a couple of years down the line, their faith in his decision is starting to pay off. Lookman has since played for the first team at Everton as well as RB Leipzig on a short stint this year.

On his attributes

Lookman started off as a striker as mentioned earlier. His goal scoring record in the U18 and U21 teams warranted him a position in the first team at Charlton where he eventually starred at a young age. He scored on his full debut before adding a brace in his second appearance just 10 days later. He managed a total of 10 goals in the 45 appearances he made for the club before moving to Everton. This rings a bell to how Marcus Rashford started off his career at Manchester United where he banged in goals for fun in his first UEFA Europa League, English Premier League and FA Cup debuts. Much like Rashford, a change of management meant that the Lookman had to adapt to a new position at Everton.

The young forward was turned into a winger under the wings of two Everton managers in Roberto Martinez and Sam Allardyce, who deployed him mostly on the left side in the absence of the injured Yannick Bolasie. Lookman was mostly used later on in the match when Everton needed to waste time in the dying minutes and needed a fresh player capable of holding the ball at his feet. Little did they know that the young forward would grab his opportunity and start knocking on the door for a start in the Everton team. Sam Allardyce realised that the young player needed to gain some experience before making the next step in his career, and sent him on loan to RB Leipzig in Germany where he shined. Lookman came on as a late substitute against Borussia Monchengladbach and scored a late winner on his debut. He ended up scoring 5 goals in 11 appearances before the end of the 2017/18 season. The German club were dazzled by his direct play as he always demanded the ball before making forward runs which produced the goods for the club. Even from playing on the flanks, he still managed to score goals which is an attribute that many teams are lacking in the present day. It is not surprising that Leipzig tried to secure another short-term acquisition of the youngster to help their team especially in the summer in which they lost their Guinean starman, Naby Keita, to Liverpool.

Lookman can also play as a makeshift wing-back. He has the workrate and the pace needed on the byline which you can see in a player like Ashley Young who plays for Manchester United. However, it would be limiting his contribution if deployed in such a defensive position because he is far more dangerous when he is further up the pitch.

"Lookman was mostly used later on in the match when Everton needed to waste time in the dying minutes and needed a fresh player capable of holding the ball at his feet. Little did they know that the young forward would grab his opportunity and start knocking on the door for a start in the Everton team." - Tinotenda Magiya, FirstTouch Africa

On his decision to play for Nigeria ahead of England

Being born in England to Nigerian parents meant that the winger was eligible to represent a country of his choice between the two. He first turned down the advances made by Gernot Rohr, the Nigerian coach in 2017 because he had his mind set on playing for England in the FIFA U20-World Cup. One year later, it is a different story altogether.

Recent reports on European football news suggested that the youngster realised that his chances of playing for England are blocked by quite a number of promising youngsters like Josh Onomah, Demarai Gray and Ryan Sessegnon. This explains why he intends to play for the Super Eagles of Nigeria instead of England whom he has represented at youth level.

Also, the fact that Victor Moses announced his retirement from international football means that there is a position up for grabs in the first team which Ademola Lookman would be looking to grab and make his own. With Everton's Henry Onyekuru also lurking, it will by no means be a walk in the park.

Achievements:

FIFA U20-World Cup 2017 (he scored 3 goals in the tournament

LFE Championship Apprentice of the Year 2015/16

What's next for the Nigerian?

Lookman has fallen down the pecking order at Everton now that Marco Silva is the new head coach and acquired the services of Richarlison for £50 million pounds from Watford. The Brazilian plays in the same position as the young Nigerian and seems to have the confidence of the manager. Maybe Lookman has to keep his head down and wait for his chance at the club after he failed to secure another loan move away from Everton before transfer deadline day.

Another option could be to leave for another club that will give him a chance to prove that he deserves a place in the Nigeria's Super Eagles squad for the 2018 Africa Cup of nations which will be hosted by Cameroon. Lookman has a bright future ahead of him and FirstTouch would want to benchmark his career to that of other football legends like Didier Drogba, George Weah, etc. when he eventually hangs his boots.

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