Ademola Lookman: How Atalanta man deserted the uncertainty of England for a starring position in Nigeria’s AFCON run

Ademola Lookman: How Atalanta man deserted the uncertainty of England for a starring position in Nigeria’s AFCON run

In the summertime of 2017, England turned the champions of the world for the primary time – at any degree – since 1966 when a bunch of proficient children powered to glory on the FIFA U20 World Cup in South Korea.

In that triumphant 21-man squad headed by coach Paul Simpson have been six gamers of Nigerian descent.

Amongst them, Fikayo Tomori, Dominic Solanke, and Ademola Lookman emerged as wonderful prospects for the senior England staff following a stellar marketing campaign in South Korea.

Tomori was a category act in a defence that shipped solely three objectives (together with his personal purpose) in seven video games.

Solanke picked up the Golden Ball award because the match’s greatest participant after scoring 4 objectives – only one greater than Lookman, whose three objectives have been essential within the knockout rounds.

Curiously, a couple of months earlier than that match, Nigeria’s head coach on the time, Gernot Rohr, had contacted Lookman, providing him an opportunity to play for the Tremendous Eagles. {The teenager} declined the supply, opting to pursue a world profession with England.

Following England’s success on the World Cup, it regarded just like the teen was proper to have snubbed Nigeria.

By November of the identical 12 months, barely 5 months after the conclusion of the U20 World Cup, Solanke made his senior England debut, leaving Lookman to anticipate his flip.

Nonetheless, when the coveted invitation didn’t materialise, Nigeria resurfaced, reaching out to Lookman earlier than the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

His reluctance endured, and Nigeria’s early exit from the match, following defeats to Croatia and Argentina, appeared to validate Lookman’s determination.

Whereas Tomori ultimately earned his senior England cap in 2019, Lookman’s wait continued.

Nonetheless, the Nigeria Soccer Federation pressed on, with the goal being to make sure the Tremendous Eagles certified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The NFF’s renewed efforts have been met with hesitation after England supervisor Gareth Southgate assured Lookman of his position in England’s plans.

Nonetheless, by January 2020, Lookman, fueled by a need to play worldwide soccer, had waited lengthy sufficient, and the thrilling ahead initiated the method to modify allegiance to Nigeria.

Quick ahead to 2022, Lookman’s request was granted a couple of days after a struggling Tunisian aspect eradicated the Tremendous Eagles within the first knockout spherical of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Lookman debuted for Nigeria a few months later in opposition to Ghana, a proud second for the previous England youth worldwide.

And so it begins 🦅 my first name up and might’t wait to signify my nation. See you quickly Naija 😍🇳🇬 @NGSuperEagles pic.twitter.com/BDbTIxB3Cw

— Ademola Lookman (@Alookman_) March 4, 2022

“It was nothing to do with my dad and mom as a result of they wouldn’t actually inform me to go right here or there,” Lookman advised The Instances.

“I wished to construct a profession internationally. The choice was one thing that I thought of for a very long time earlier than making. To play for Nigeria is an honour initially and the perfect determination I ever made. I’m completely satisfied I made it.”

Sadly, the Tremendous Eagles ultimately didn’t make it to the World Cup in Qatar.

Entered the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire – Lookman’s first main match for his father’s nation of beginning – delayed to kick off in January 2024.

Regardless of the abundance of attacking skills on the beck and name of head coach Jose Peseiro, Lookman’s title made it into Nigeria’s 25-man AFCON squad with out fuss.

The main focus of many followers was actually on extra celebrated names like Victor Osimhen, the newly-crowned Africa Footballer of the 12 months, and Victor Boniface, the Bayer Leverkusen ahead who had turned the Bundesliga into his playground.

From beneath the radar, nevertheless, Lookman has emerged as Nigeria’s most excellent performer on the thirty fourth version of the AFCON, and he has already been tipped to complete because the match’s greatest participant. And for good motive. 

He claimed an help in Nigeria’s first match, serving Osimhen with a scrumptious cross that wanted solely the tiniest of touches for the Tremendous Eagles’ essential equaliser in opposition to Equatorial Guinea.

Lookman labored his socks off in Nigeria’s spectacular victory over hosts Cote d’Ivoire, however it’s within the knockout rounds that the 26-year-old’s affect has been phenomenal.

The Atalanta ahead scored a sensational brace in opposition to a hard-fighting Cameroon, making certain Nigeria’s progress to the quarterfinals.

— 🐬 @𝗼𝗻𝗲𝗷𝗼𝗯𝗹𝗲𝘀𝘀𝗯𝗼𝘆 (@OneJoblessBoy) February 3, 2024

He then netted the match-winner in opposition to Angola to not solely solidify his standing because the Tremendous Eagles’ game-changer but in addition hand Nigeria the ticket to the semifinals – the nation’s first since 2019. Even his father loved that one. 

🦅🇳🇬ONE STEP CLOSER🦅🇳🇬 pic.twitter.com/gpTg0zaGT1

— Ademola Lookman (@Alookman_) February 2, 2024

He’s already within the file books because the fourth Nigerian participant in historical past – after Rashidi Yekini, Austin Okocha, and Odion Ighalo – to attain three or extra objectives within the knockout rounds of the AFCON.

Past objectives, Lookman’s defensive tenacity, team-first mentality, and resilience within the face of bodily challenges have elevated him as considered one of Nigeria’s most impactful gamers.

With Victor Osimhen struggling for objectives, Lookman has stepped into the void admirably, shaping the staff’s fortunes.

Even the previous RB Leipzig ace is aware of that the Tremendous Eagles are removed from fulfilling their monumental potential. 

Atalanta hitman Lookman has said that the staff is but to succeed in their greatest.

“We’ve not reached our greatest but,” Lookman advised Soccernet.ng.

“Undoubtedly as a squad, we now have gotten higher because the competitors has gone on, and we hope to proceed that method.”

Because the Tremendous Eagles face South Africa within the semifinals, Lookman is poised to be the linchpin once more.

Lookman’s contribution to Nigeria’s progress so far has already vindicated the NFF’s relentless near-five-year pursuit to safe his dedication.

His wonderful performances not solely elevate the Tremendous Eagles but in addition encourage different skills of Nigerian descent overseas.

Quite a few burgeoning skills are coming by the ranks at Chelsea, Manchester United, and even Crystal Palace, together with Michael Olise, Noni Madueke, Lesley Ugochukwu, Carney Chukwuemeka, and Shola Shoretire.

Whereas coach Peseiro has been good in forging a formidable squad that has turn into the number-one title contender on the AFCON, it’s evident that the Tremendous Eagles want a couple of upgrades in a number of departments.

By embracing their Nigerian heritage, these gifted children may contribute to forging an unstoppable Tremendous Eagles aspect forward of the 2024 AFCON and the 2026 World Cup — a legacy initiated by Ademola Lookman’s pivotal determination.

Lookman’s journey, a triumph for every body, may turn into the catalyst for a brand new technology and an enduring legacy for Nigerian soccer.

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