Last week saw Ronald Koeman make his first big money acquisition of the January 2017 transfer window, snapping up Charlton Athletic wonder kid Ademola Lookman for a reported initial fee of £7.5 million. But who is Everton’s new recruit, where did he find his big break and what does this emerging star bring to a squad already awash with talent? Read on.
Signing with Everton on a four-and-a-half-year deal and handed the #31 shirt previously occupied by Toffees Leon Osman, Mark Hughes and Seamus Coleman, Evertonians might be enthused to learn that Lookman’s day of birth coincided with a Merseyside derby at Goodison Park; perhaps a sign of things to come for those most superstitious. However, despite growing up in a footballing hotbed and home to more than a dozen professional clubs, Peckham-based Lookman would almost end up as one of the capital’s countless young talents to slip through the cracks; until a fateful friendly match dramatically changed his career trajectory.
Spending most of his teenage years outside of the typical academy/development system route, the attacker was playing Sunday football for Waterloo in Lambeth when he featured as a substitute for an Inner London select XI against Charlton’s U16s, catching the eye of Addicks academy boss Steve Avory. Joining up with the Addicks’ youth after an explosively successively trial, Lookman quickly flourished under the mentoring of figures like Premier League alumni Jason Euell, notching 17 goals as Charlton charged to the U18 League 2 championship and claiming doubles in the victories at Ipswich Town and Colchester United, as well as a second-half hat-trick in September 2014’s 4-1 home win over Sheffield United. The following year saw him knock on the door of the first team, a remarkable accomplishment in such a small space of time. Announcing his arrival with this powerful late winner in the Kent Senior Cup, the bright lights and dizzy heights of the Football League would beckon.
An old adage states where there is chaos, there is opportunity and so it would prove for Lookman at struggling Charlton, only days after 18th birthday. With Israeli coach Guy Luzon becoming the club’s fourth managerial casualty in less than two years, new incumbent Karel Fraeye took a chance on untested #37 Lookman, handing him his Championship debut on 3 November 2015. Replacing 2014 World Cup goalscorer Reza Ghoochanneijhad in the midweek defeat at MK Dons, Lookman would come in for the Iranian again at the Valley the following Saturday, helping the club to a 3-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday, before securing his first start at Birmingham City later in the month. Then, on 5th December, Lookman linked up with Reza to claim his first professional goal for Charlton, a second-minute opener at Brighton.
With his account well and truly opened, Lookman’s first half brace against Bolton Wanderers at the Valley ten days later helped the South London side into a 2-0 lead and though a Boxing Day trip to Bristol City saw some signs of ill-discipline, as Lookman collected his first caution in Charlton colours, this proved to be a solitary blip as the youngster’s promising first senior season continued. While manager Fraeye would exit stage left only days into the New Year, Lookman continued to feature prominently under returning coach Jose Riga, capping an impressive display at Rotherham United with the fourth in a 4-1 win. The Londoner’s consistency would then be rewarded with a new and improved first team contract. Unlike the escapology of his previous stint at the helm, Riga would be unable to save Charlton from the drop, with the Addicks relegated after a scoreless draw at Bolton on Tuesday 19 April. Nevertheless, the form of his hot prospect remained a source of encouragement in the campaign’s dying weeks, with Lookman doing enough to be named EFL’s Championship Apprentice of the Year and scoring the winner at Leeds on the final day of the month.
In spite of their demotion from the Championship, Charlton were able to resist the attraction of bitter rivals Crystal Palace among others, retaining the prodigious Lookman for their League One campaign. With Riga the latest manager to tumble out of the Valley’s revolving door, former Cardiff boss Russell Slade was soon handed the reins, with Lookman meanwhile upgraded to the #7 shirt; a sign of his newfound importance to the Charlton cause. Justifying this apparent promotion, Lookman would be on target in each and every month of the club’s league campaign, starting with a vital last minute equaliser against Bolton Wanderers at the Valley on Saturday 27 August. Opening the scoring at home to Wimbledon on 17 September, Lookman would return to the scoresheet at Coventry City less than a month later, helping his Addicks teammates to a credible 3-0 win. Meanwhile, though Slade would fail to make it to Christmas, November saw Lookman’s run continue, leading the way in an emphatic 5-1 win at Bristol Rovers, under the guidance of caretaker Kevin Nugent. Having caught the attention of a number of top flight giants, it appeared only a matter of time before mid-table Charlton would attract new interest in Lookman’s services; and so it proved, with an initial, £7m bid from Everton reportedly declined during the month of November. Nevertheless, with the vultures of Germany’s RB Leipzig circling, the Toffees would later up their bid; and duly got their man. Concluding his Charlton duties with another new boss in Karl Robinson, Lookman signed off with the winner at Milton Keynes on Boxing Day, his final goal for the Addicks coming appropriately at the very same ground that he made his first team debut. The current season also saw Lookman score twice on his FA Cup debut, a 3-1 First Round win over Scunthorpe on Bonfire Night, almost exactly a year on from his senior bow. Representatives of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool were said to be in SE7 that day and while the appearance ensured Lookman would be cup-tied for the rest of the campaign, Everton’s Third Round exit to Leicester City on Saturday made this restriction a moot point going forward.
As well as his club exploits, Lookman represented England at U19 and U20 level this past year, partaking in a number of training camps at St. George’s Park before making his Three Lions debut in a 2-0 defeat to Mexico on Saturday 4 June. Donning the #7 jersey and lining up alongside future Everton clubmates Callum Connolly and Jonjoe Kenny, Lookman’s endeavour was rewarded with a place in the England U19 squad for their UEFA EURO adventure; and while the attacker would be sidelined in Germany for their 2-1 win over France, he subsequently played 75 minutes of the win over the Netherlands, as well as the full 90 minutes in another 2-1 win, this time against Croatia. In the second round, Lookman saw himself benched until the 83rd minute, while his teammates slumped to a two-goal deficit against opponents Italy. Claiming a goal back within a minute of his introduction, England would nonetheless exit the competition, falling by another 2-1 scoreline. Undeterred however, Lookman would make the step up to U20 level following the tournament, appearing as a substitute in September’s friendly with Brazil, before joining up with the camp for their Four Nations campaign. Competing against the Netherlands, Germany and the United States, Lookman’s standout performance came against the Germans, as he scored and provided an assist in a 3-1 win at Huddersfield. Travelling to South Korea for November’s Continental Cup, Lookman would also feature for Keith Dowling’s U20 side in the heavy wins over Nigeria and Iran, as well as in a 2-1 defeat to the hosts at Suwon’s World Cup Stadium. AC
What they said
“I still feel like I’m dreaming. It’s amazing to think only three years ago I was playing on uneven pitches in parks. Everton is a huge club. I watched lots of games growing up and the atmosphere at Goodison Park was something that always caught my eye. I know about the great history Everton has – and, of course, the big rivalry that exists with Liverpool. I can’t wait to get started here. I want to establish myself in the team, but I also want achieve things and help the club win trophies.” Ademola Lookman, Everton Football Club
“He can play from the left side, he can play out of the right wing position, he can play like a second striker. He is fast and his movement is very dangerous. He is a player who scores goals. I spoke to the boy and he knows what we want, how he needs to train and play, and his behaviour. He’s only 19 and we know it’s difficult for young players to come into the first team at the level of the Premier League, but he’s the type who we believe can make the step as soon as possible”. Ronald Koeman, Everton Football Club