• Thursday, June 20, 2024
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From Charlton Academy to Europa League Hero: The rise of Ademola Lookman

From Charlton Academy to Europa League Hero: The rise of Ademola Lookman

Nigerian and sensational forward Ademola Lookman’s journey in football has been truly inspiring. Discovered by the Charlton academy from Sunday league football at the age of 16, he quickly rose through the ranks, soon joining Everton and representing England at the U-19 level.

Born on October 20, 1997, in Wandsworth, Greater London, to Nigerian parents. He attended St Thomas the Apostle College in Peckham, excelling academically.

His football career took him to Germany and through several loan spells before he found his stride at Atalanta, becoming one of the most exciting players in Europe.

After stints at Everton, RB Leipzig, Fulham, and Leicester, Lookman found his footing at Atalanta, scoring 30 goals and providing 16 assists over two seasons.

Early Football Journey

Growing up in the Wandsworth area of London, Lookman faced numerous challenges. His upbringing was far from ideal, with his family struggling financially.

“When I would come home from football, I knew there was no food on the table, so I would eat at a friend’s house,” Lookman recalled in the BBC documentary “South of the River”.

Despite these hardships, his passion for football and his determination to succeed never waned. Lookman credits his strong work ethic and resilience to his upbringing.

His mother’s unwavering strength and sacrifices provided him with the motivation to pursue his dreams. “Those torments of hers awakened that extra fire in me and gave me fuel. That urge, that feeling that I could, it was love. I’m thankful for all those adversities. They made me who I am today,” Lookman reflected.

Europa League Success

Despite the setbacks and challenges, he has reached impressive heights, demonstrating that young players often face non-linear development paths. Lookman’s perseverance has paid off, as he now plays a crucial role in Atalanta’s success. Recently, he contributed significantly to Atalanta’s 3-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen, scoring two goals and breaking their unbeaten streak.

Atalanta’s Europa League victory, their second major trophy since the 1963 Coppa Italia, was historic. Lookman’s hat-trick not only broke Bayer Leverkusen’s 51-match unbeaten streak but also made him the first player to score a hat-trick in a Europa League final since 1975. This performance earned him the “Player of the Match” accolade and placed him in an elite group of Nigerian players who have excelled in major UEFA finals.

Family Support

Lookman’s parents were present at the Aviva Stadium to witness their son’s historic achievement. After the match, they joined him on the pitch, showering him with hugs and kisses. In a proud dad moment, Lookman’s father joyfully exclaimed, “That’s my son!”

The Nigerian winger wrote his name into Atalanta’s history with his Europa League final hat-trick, becoming the sixth player to achieve this feat in a European final and the first since Jupp Heynckes for Borussia Mönchengladbach in the 1975 UEFA Cup.

The Nigerian winger had never reached double figures in a season for Charlton, Everton, RB Leipzig, Fulham, or Leicester. However, he has now scored 15 goals in each of his two seasons with Atalanta.

Immediately after the final whistle, Lookman told TNT Sports, “It’s one of the best nights of my life.” He hinted at a planned celebration, saying, “We’ve got to celebrate; we made history tonight.”

Lookman joined coach Gian Piero Gasperini’s post-match press conference, where he praised the support he received from the club and coach, which he credits for elevating his game.

“The past few years, the club and coach have supported me in terms of giving me minutes… it’s helped me elevate my game to a new level,” he said. “The first few conversations we had made me look at football differently. It made it simpler in my mind in terms of what he expected from me.”

Felix Emanus, Lookman’s former youth coach at Waterloo, shared his joy after the match. “I really can’t tell you my emotions,” he said.

“We’ve been dreaming about this for a long time since Lookman was a kid at Waterloo. Tonight was a dream come true.

“I cried when the third goal went in. I’m so happy for Lookman. He works so hard, a quiet lad. Sometimes misunderstood because of his quietness but he’s a great kid. Wants to learn, wants to always get better and wants to reach the top.”

Atalanta Journey

Atalanta acquired Lookman for less than €10 million in 2022, a decision influenced by Lee Congerton, then head of the club’s scouting service. Under Gasperini’s mentorship, Lookman evolved into a prolific scorer, a transformation no one anticipated given his previous lack of double-digit goal seasons.

Before joining Atalanta, he struggled to make a significant impact at his previous clubs. His fortunes changed when Atalanta, under the guidance of Gian Piero Gasperini, signed him in 2022. “We had a man in Atalanta who worked in Leicester and saw an opportunity to bring him,” Gasperini recalled. “He believed he could be useful to us. But no one could have imagined that he would progress this far.”

He has scored 30 goals and provided 16 assists over two seasons, a remarkable turnaround for a player who had never reached double-digit goals in a season before.

Lookman’s performance was also historic on multiple fronts. The Super Eagles star had an impressive 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast where he scored three goals that helped Nigeria win a Silver medal.