Class of 2019: Ademola Lookman
This article is an excerpt from the Class of 2019 feature from Issue 01 of GAFFER: ‘England’s Finest’. Available from our online shop now.
Ademola Lookman was a little-known winger playing on scuffed Sunday League pitches in Wandsworth in 2014. At 16, his career seemed to have already hit the fated ceiling, lulled at the plateau outside of one of the country’s prodigious academies.
Bruising weekend battles came and passed, older and heftier opponents felled, yet still he wondered how the breakthrough could come, until one weekend, Lookman’s FC Waterloo were invited to play a match against Charlton’s academy starlets.
Dazzling amid a blur of direct runs and tenacious tackling learned on those local pitches, Lookman left the club’s coaches in awe, so much so that within weeks he was signed to the club. Ever since, his career has continued to follow such a superlunary trajectory, leapfrogging from Charlton to Everton little over two years later. The price, £11m, worth a streetful of those impossibly plush mansions bordering the common in Wandsworth where he first began playing.
Still, after such an unorthodox passage, Lookman never doubted he’d reach this stage. The talent, evidently, was always there. It was about unlocking the opportunity, seizing the single chance as he did in a fleeting moment at the Addicks. “With any new opportunity, you want to be able to do your best and show what you can do,” Lookman said. “So for me, the challenge was to do exactly that! Work hard and show everyone my capabilities.
“I’ve always known what I wanted to achieve and I knew that with hard work, dedication and the support of my family and those around me I’d be able to achieve it.
“Thankfully so far I’ve been able to achieve a lot and there’s still a lot more to do. The hard work continues!”
Four-and-a-half years on from his final game with Waterloo, and the 21-year-old has already entered double-digit Premier League appearances this season under Marco Silva, spent six months out in Germany with RB Leipzig and left the Toffees hierarchy fending away interest from potential suitors.
Under the eye of Gareth Southgate too, having rejected a call-up from the Nigerian national team and starring in England’s U20 World Cup win, Lookman scored two decisive goals in the Young Lions’ knife-edge victory over Costa Rica in the knockout stages.
Only weeks after the team’s triumphant return from South Korea, he then scored his first goal for Everton in an eye-watering 4-0 victory over Manchester City. “I had so many emotions going through me at that moment. It’s definitely up there as a highlight of my career so far.”
After years being stuck behind, stuck in the mud, Lookman’s unconventional and increasingly rapid rise has seen him join England’s list of prodigies as something of a late bloomer. Yet as he begins to become a starting fixture in the Everton side, his career is only beginning to move out of its infancy.