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Profile: A Close LOOK at the MAN on FIRE!

Ademola Lookman was right to leave England behind after etching his name into Nigerian football folklore at AFCON… he is an inspiration for anyone looking to squeeze the most from a short career

Little more than four years ago, when we met at RB Leipzig’s training complex, Ademola Lookman spoke sensibly about the big decision looming over his international future.

Lookman was capped at youth levels for England before switching allegiance to Nigeria

At 22, he had won England caps from Under 19 to Under 21 level and was playing Champions League football for Julian Nagelsmann, then one of the rising coaches in Europe.

One approach from Nigeria had been rejected, but Lookman admitted he was interested in savouring big international tournaments and considering the idea of switching allegiance to the nation of his African heritage.

‘I’m open and it’s good to have different opportunities,’ he said back in December 2019. ‘It’s a serious decision. We’ll see. International football is a big thing if you want to keep progressing, which I do.’

Lookman has scored thrice in the knockout stage of AFCON for Nigeria

On Friday, at the age of 26, Lookman etched his name into Nigerian football folklore forever, scoring the only goal to beat Angola in the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations. Six days earlier, he had scored twice in a 2-0 win against Cameroon in the last 16.

He has achieved the unthinkable by eclipsing team-mate Victor Osimhen, the striker everyone wants to sign from Napoli, and his father was bursting with pride as he found himself in demand for post-match reaction. ‘To say I am happy is an understatement,’ beamed Ademola Senior. ‘I am overwhelmed.’

Lookman’s father is proud of his son’s progress

Lookman is one of those players who slipped the academy system. Charlton stumbled upon him on south London’s Sunday League circuit, playing with his mates for Waterloo, and gave him a scholarship.

There has always been a delightful unpolished and uncoached quality to his football. It might be partly the reason he has not prospered in the Premier League, but he is flourishing with Atalanta in Italy’s Serie A and with Nigeria, who now face South Africa in the Afcon semi-finals on Wednesday.

Lookman is an intelligent and determined young man. He told how he liked to immerse himself in books about personal development and clearly has an appetite to make the most of his talents.

This attitude is clear from the career decisions he has made, refusing to linger at clubs where he wasn’t playing because he figured inertia would halt his progress – and he was almost certainly right.

Instead, he has kept moving and continued to develop, a fine example for anyone seeking to squeeze the most from a short career, particularly those emerging from our multicultural communities for whom pathways can be more complicated.

Lookman is one of 15 English-born players at this Afcon tournament in the Ivory Coast.

Lookman’s next challenge, meanwhile, is to find a way past Ronwen Williams, the South Africa goalkeeper who saved four of five penalties in their win over Cape Verde on Saturday.

Reports courtesy: Mail Sports

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