Two dates will standout for Ademola Lookman: Sunday, January 17, 2017 and more recently, Saturday, February 3, 2018.
Both games, against Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach, at Goodison Park and Borussia-Park respectively, saw the wonderkid bring smiles to fans’ faces as they appreciated the outstanding talent right in front of them.
For the Toffees, his record-breaking signing from League One outfit Charlton Athletic just over a year ago was accompanied with much hype and fanfare. Then-manager Ronald Koeman reportedly let go of a fee in the region of £11m to make the forward the most expensive player ever signed from the third tier of English football.
The wide player was meant to take his game to the next level under Koeman, but after a year split under the Dutchman, and his successor Sam Allardyce, has been farmed out on loan, with Lookmann opting for Germany over potential Championship destinations.
The Anglo-Nigerian’s malaise could be traced back to the end of February last year. Since then, he only played 45 minutes of Premier League football (against Middlesbrough and Sunderland) until the end of the season. This was despite Aiden McGeady, Gerard Deulofeu, Aaron Lennon and Yannick Bolasie all being missing for several reasons ranging from temporary departures, to injury.
With Everton’s ambition and significant splurge in the summer, chances in the first-team were always going to be at a premium for ‘Mola’. With games few and far between for the teenage forward (even under new manager Allardyce) the loan decision was made… but not without controversy.
Having ruled out a temporary move for Lookman (due to Lennon’s departure to Burnley) days before the winter transfer window shut, a dramatic U-turn ensued and the wideman now finds himself making the huge leap to the Champions League-chasing Bundesliga club.
It’s a move that irked Allardyce, who felt the ‘stubborn’ attacker would have been served better by a move to Championship side Derby County. The manager is well within his rights to think the player would experience a bit of culture shock in the central-western European nation, but on the flip side, the youngster should be given a fair bit of credit for pushing through to take his game to the next level.
For one, and with due respect to the second-tier of English football, most players would rather learn in a side striving to make Champions League football than a side seeking promotion to the English top-flight. This is in no way a dig at the Rams, but having experienced football in the lower leagues, it probably wasn’t a difficult decision to opt for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side.
He didn’t arrive to much fanfare as he did when he joined the Merseyside club, but notwithstanding, Die Roten Bullen have on their hands a player willing to prove a point after 12 torrid months.
Granted, the next four months could prove to be a monumental disaster, but the youngster has more to gain than he has to lose.
Lookman is still something of a diamond in the rough, but the Bundesliga should suit his positive and direct running, and he now has the opportunity to improve his all-round game and sharpen the rough edges.
Proof of that was his solo effort against Gladbach this weekend. On receiving the pass from Naby Keita between the lines, his only thought was to run at the defenders and cause havoc. He duly did just that, demonstrating the kind of form that prompted Everton to sign him originally.
It came at a time when it seemed like a goalless draw was in the offing as neither side created enough clear-cut chances to even deserve a goal. It evidently meant a whole lot to Hasenhuttl, who raced down the touchline to celebrate with the team before congratulating Lookman at the final whistle. The winger is certainly making a good impression, isn’t he?
The fact that the wideman was the first Englishman (since Owen Hargreaves at Bayern Munich in 2005) to score in the German top flight has got to count for something too.
With the England Under-21 international still eligible to play for Nigeria, a sustained run in the side and more importantly, consistency in his performances could feasibly spark a struggle between Gareth Southgate and Gernot Rohr.
Playing regularly at club level, and to a greater degree, at a high-profile club, increases his chances of national team football. After recently losing out to the Three Lions for Tammy Abraham, Rohr will definitely want no repeat of that debacle and pull out all the stops in getting the highly-rated wideman to don the green of the Super Eagles.
There certainly was a bit of schadenfreude by a couple of critics who saw the humour in the fact that Lookman, not deemed ready to play regularly for the Toffees, scored on the same day his parent club Everton suffered a humiliating 5-1 defeat at Arsenal. The former England manager said he hoped Lookman “proves us all wrong” after claiming the move was a “big challenge” for the youngster, but might he already be regretting the decision to let him go?
After that terrific debut performance though, could the youngster be set to invalidate his manager’s appraisal of his ability and development?