Lookman On His Fierce Desire To Succeed

by Paul McNamara
@Everton

In the midst of one of his dazzling wing displays this season, Ademola Lookman received the ball snug to the right touchline.

He was deep in opposition territory.

The plastic seats belonging to 3,000 Evertonians in the away end flipped back in unison, creating that slightly odd echoey sound you hear only in a football stadium as a mass of supporters spring to their feet.

The clanging noise gave way to a guttural roar, part rallying cry, part excitement, as those fans anticipated Lookman taking on his man.

Lookman motioned as if about to do precisely that, his trigger movement carrying him forward a step or two. Then he reconsidered. Spying Gylfi Sigurdsson in his peripheral vision, Lookman checked, calculated his options and promptly sent a laser-guided pass scooting 15 yards across the turf to his better-placed teammate.

It was an illuminating episode on two counts, highlighting the buzz generated when Lookman has the ball at his feet and revealing a young footballer’s growing confidence and maturity.

“I have always had that [range of] ability, I just haven’t shown it so much in games,” says Lookman.

“But with the confidence of the fans, of the manager and my teammates, I can evolve as a player even more.

“With time and training and games, you will always improve. But most importantly games. And I feel I am getting stronger every single week.”

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If Lookman’s intelligent decision-making and composure in possession have been overlooked somewhat, then it remains his fearless and direct running with the ball which gets pulses racing.

A player dropping his shoulder to fly past an opponent remains one of the most thrilling spectacles on a football pitch.

The sight of a dashing forward advancing upfield, the ball tight to his boots, is growing increasingly rare at a time when a footballer embarking on a dribble is more likely to be criticised for taking too many touches than praised for his adventure.

It is understandable, then, that people’s interest is piqued when they see Lookman reviving a dying art.

After his man-of-the-match performance against Bournemouth on 13 January, boss Marco Silva revealed his satisfaction with how this exciting young player is developing – highlighting both Lookman’s ability and attitude.

“It was a fantastic performance,” he said. “He will improve more and more. I have believed in him since I joined the Club. All the credit is to him.

“I have worked hard with him. He is at a very good level.

“He is a player with high quality and I have no doubt he will achieve very good things in his career - in the present and future if he keeps working this way.”

Lookman inadvertently returns the compliment. Silva is responsible, says the player, for enabling his undoubted talent to bubble to the surface.

“It gives me great confidence that the manager has that faith in me and I hope I can repay it,” says Lookman.

“He gives me the licence to express myself and that allows me to feel free.

“He wants me to score more goals and get more assists and to always be available, to always be in space and consistently be a threat to the other team. And the support of the fans gives me more confidence to play my football and show what I can do.

“I always give everything I have on the training pitch.

“Nothing has changed: not my character, my belief, my ambitions or my work ethic.

“None of it has changed.”


The same is not true of Lookman’s life, which has transformed beyond recognition in the past four-and-a-half years.

Lookman played football for Waterloo FC in south London until he was 16. He was rated highly enough to be selected in a London FA representative team drawn from Sunday league sides for a bounce match against Charlton Athletic’s Under-16s.

This was in April 2014. In October 2015, Lookman made his first-team debut for Charlton in a Championship game with MK Dons. He would play another 23 times in the 2015-16 season, 21 more in League One the following term before Everton swooped.

“It was game after game in the Championship and that helped me a lot,” says Lookman. “I evolved and got better and better.

“I moved to Everton and want to continue doing the same here.”

Lookman’s unconventional football background presents something of a conundrum for coaches more familiar with honing talents refined in academies.

The challenge is to point the player in the right direction without draining him of his raw ability and courage.

England fast bowler Jimmy Anderson emerged onto the international scene 15 years ago with an action which brought him wickets in bundles but defied all coaching logic. Coaches tweaked and advised in an attempt to produce a quickie whose action conformed to the manuals.

The outcome was a teenager stripped of the speed, joy and exuberance which had combined to produce one of England’s most potent cricketers in eons, a man whose confidence and bowling needed rebuilding from the bottom up. Anderson continues to play for England today, extending his record number of wickets for the country every time he claims a scalp.

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Lookman’s burst into the national consciousness came four minutes into his Everton debut against Manchester City in January 2017. He was introduced as a 90th-minute substitute and scored in the final knockings of stoppage time.

The intervening two years have tracked a winding path.

But in the midst of his finest spell of form at Goodison Park, Lookman talks confidently of the future, his words reflecting the bold and assured man we are seeing more and more on the field.

“My ambition,” says Lookman, his voice adopting a tone which suggests the answer to this query should be obvious, “is to play at the top.”

“To be at the very top of the top in football.

“Those ambitions feel attainable. But it takes a lot of hard work.”

It is not unreasonable to suggest there were a few naysayers expecting Lookman to find the going very tough when he joined Bundesliga team RB Leipzig on loan in January.

“My main objective was to play football and to keep on playing,” explains Lookman.

“I went over there and did that. “


Lookman went to Germany alone. As he stands in the first-team training block at USM Finch Farm, ignoring a fleeting commotion created by Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, the pair trying to distract their teammate as he conducts this interview, Lookman flips his mind back to his first few days abroad.

“It was a bit – I wouldn’t say daunting – but it was a new environment,” he says. “It happened quickly, so I got there and realised, ‘Wow, I am actually in Germany’.

“It was exciting and…” Lookman pauses to consider, “what is the other word I could use?

“Challenging.

“It is a different environment, different people and a different language. It took me out of my comfort zone. And you learn a lot when you are out of your comfort zone.”

The language, concedes Lookman, was “hard, very hard”. “I had a couple of lessons each week so I got used to it,” he says.

“I wasn’t that advanced but I knew a few phrases, a few words.”

Measured against his Everton debut, Lookman was positively dilatory in getting off the mark for Leipzig, striking the only goal of the match 11 minutes after coming off the bench on his first appearance, against Borussia Monchengladbach.

All told, he was a revelation in Germany, scoring five goals and assisting a further four in 11 appearances – seven of them starts.

“We played a 4-2-2-2 system,” he explains. “I was on the left of the two number 10s. A lot of teams over there play counter-attacking football but otherwise the game is not greatly different from the Premier League.

“I reached my target, which was to play games and score goals.”

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Lookman is big on targets – “It helps if you can picture what you want to achieve” – but reluctant to disclose his immediate aims. He smiles and keeps his lips together when the subject is aired.

You prefer to keep them you yourself? “Of course,” he grins.

“Football,” says Lookman, “is all I think about”. Indeed, one of his favourite ways of relaxing is to head out for a stroll simply to “clear my head”.

In addition to his speed and balance, though, Lookman has been blessed with perspective.

He does not hesitate when asked if football is the most important thing in his life.

“Number one, God,” he replies.

“Without God, I do not know where I would be.

“But football is an enormous priority.”

In the minutes before this interview, Lucas Digne popped his head round the door. “Will it be a long one?” enquired Everton’s French left-back. Digne and Lookman often share car journeys to and from work.

The Englishman is helping his friend master the nuances of a language he already speaks very well. Digne returns the favour by relating his footballing insight.

“Lucas’s English is getting better, it is very good,” says Lookman.

“I talk to all the players about football. If you can get different ideas and views from other people you can learn more.

“And playing with good players always improves your game. We are all helping each other here.

“Everybody wants to progress. It is definitely what I want… to progress and keep on striving for more.”

Lookman returns briefly to the topic of switching off from his sport. “It is very difficult after a game,” he says. “I find it easier during the week if my family is here.

“I don’t miss London much, though. There is too much traffic down there. Driving around here is a lot easier.”

Emboldened by his manager, Ademola Lookman‘s football is back in the fast lane.


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