With six months to get his feet under the table, the January 2017 transfer window was arguably the first in which director of football, Steve Walsh, could say he was able to properly prepare for and the club wasted little time in landing his next target when Ademola Lookman was signed from Charlton Athletic.
The move for the England U20 forward, reported to be worth around £7.5m up front and ultimately £10m if add-ons were triggered, was a record fee paid for a League One player and the result of extensive scouting by Walsh and his team.
Born in Wandsworth in London, Lookman was picked up by Charlton from Waterloo FC in 2014 and, after his scoring exploits for the Addicks' academy teams earned him a promotion to the first team, he made his senior debut in November 2015.
He quickly emerged as one of the brightest prospects in the Football League in the ensuing 14 months, playing 45 times, scoring 10 league goals for the South London club and being named the Championship's Apprentice of the Year in 2015-16 despite Charlton's relegation to League One.
Lookman's transfer to Goodison Park was initially thought to be in jeopardy over Charlton's desire to have the 19-year-old return to The Valley on loan for the remainder of the season and Everton's strong reluctance to it. Manager Ronald Koeman apparently saw him as a viable first-team option for the remainder of the season given that he was likely to be without Yannick Bolasie for the rest of 2017.
Koeman expressed his satisfaction at landing Lookman saying, “Ademola is a big talent and, at 19 years old, he has a big future in the game. I'm really happy that we've been able to bring him here to the Club. This is part of the vision we have for the Club and it's important to give to young players the opportunity so that the team continues to evolve and improve. We believe in the player and in the development of the player which, of course, will take time but he will have a big part to play in the future of the Club.”
Blessed with great pace, balance and agility together with a desire to take players on as well as an ability to play anywhere across the forward line, Lookman promised to be an exciting addition to the Blues' squad. Two-footed and with an eye for goal, it was no doubt hoped that as he developed, he could provide a reliable source of creativity and goals in a team that once relied heavily on Romelu Lukaku's impressive strike rate.
Given Lookman's age and his comparatively diminutive frame for a forward — he is 5' 8½” — his biggest challenge as he prepared for the Premier League was always going to be his physique. Observers of him suggest that he would need to build up his strength to cope with the rigours of top flight football.
He took no time at all to announce himself to Everton fans 10 days after he signed, however. Introduced as a 90th-minute substitute by Koeman in order to get a taste of the action with Everton 3-0 up against Manchester City, Lookman found himself in the right spot to collect a ricochet off Seamus Coleman and bury a crisp low shot through the legs of goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to mark his five-minute debut cameo in fantastic fashion.
Though a live-wire going forward, Lookman found consistency in his game hard to come by in his first few months with the club and his defensive defiencies made him a tough sell as a starting player in Koeman's line-ups.
That became a bigger issue for the young forward in the first half of 2017-18 as Everton struggled badly for form and results and had dropped into the bottom three by mid-October. Koeman paid for it with his job and Lookman found his particular talents in lower demand as first David Unsworth and Sam Allardyce focused on shoring up a leaky defence and trying to get back to basics.
With the ship seemingly steaded by the new manager by Christmas 2017, it was hoped that Lookman would get more of a look-in. In light of his starring role over the summer for England U20s as they went to lift the U20s World Cup and an impressive two-goal performance for the Blues in the Europa League "dead rubber" against Apollon Limassol in November that year, it was hoped that he could be used frequently as an impact substitute to change games off the bench.
Unfortunately, the reward for his exploits in Cyprus was further frustration watching on from the sidelines until he was thrown on as a second-half sub against Liverpool in a FA Cup 3rd Round tie in January 2018 where his direct running and cross-field ball helped create an equaliser for Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Lookman was dropped for the two subsequent matches, however. Despite Allardyce's assertion that he needed the young Englishman as an option, it was a further signal that he was unlikely to get the game time he needed so when Red Bull Leipzig made an offer to take him on loan for the remainder of the 2017-18 season, he jumped at the prospect of more game time playing in the Bundesliga.
Allardyce registered his displeasure with the young player's
determination, yet his loan spell turmed out to be a big success; he
finished with five goals and two assists in his 11 appearances for
the Bundesliga side, feeding speculation that he may not wish to return
to Everton, especially if Allardyce was still in charge.
Allardyce was sacked in May but Lookman was strangely overlooked for
the England U21 side's defence of the Toulon Tournament, amidst
expectation that the new management team at Everton, lead by Director of Football,
Marcel Brands, would want to make an early statement by retaining the
services of such a promising young star. There were repeated bids
from RB Leipzig that Everton repelled, despite the player's desire to
return to Germany on a permanent basis.
His new manager, Marco Silva, was clear from the outset what he
wanted from the youngster:
“First of all, he has to understand that he is in a big club,” Silva
said in The Guardian. “I think he understands and I'm here to
be clear with him in this situation. Of course, we have to understand
that he went on loan and was happy there, he enjoyed the football as
well, and now he deserves to stay with us.
“I told him and our board on the first day that I believe in his
skills and his profile. I did my technical analysis on him and he is a
good talent. He is our present and our future. Now he has to fight for
The window passed with Lookman still an Everton player and he got picked for England U21s, earning the Man of the Match award and scoring in a
7-0 win over Andorra that put the young Lions through to the finals in
2019. After the match, he seemed to indicate that the distraction of Leipzig was behind him and that he was ready to fight for his future at Goodison Park.
“I'm at Everton and I will do my best and train hard... I feel
more settled now, the transfer window is behind me so I'm getting my
head down and working hard. You want to play, that's my objective, and I
hope to do that soon. What's out of my hands is out of my hands.
“I can only affect what I can affect and that's all I'm working on. I
wouldn't call it frustration. It's just opportunity, I haven't had as
much opportunity as I would have liked and I need to keep going forward
and working hard. I can't just stop, I've got to keep going.”
Lookman remained on the periphery under Silva in 2018-19, however, and he would make just three Premier League starts that season. His absence was questioned by supporters who felt he
could make a significant impact in the side but Silva would explain in an interview in March 2019
that the young winger had not been showing enough in terms of desire on
an ongoing basis at Finch Farm and that was a contributory factor in his
lack of gametime.
”We know what his quality is and you know I believe in his quality
since the first day I saw him, so it has to be same Lookman everyday
with the same desire everyday,” the Portuguese told the Liverpool
Echo. “He needs to understand what the coach wants coming from him, and any
winger in our model, because, after that, the quality he has. He is a
young football player but, being honest with you, I expect Ademola to be
on a different level already this season.
“I keep believing, 100%, in his quality as a football player, there
are no doubts about that, but what I want to see coming from him is the
same desire coming from him, each day, to achieve that, to reach that
level he wants and the level I believe he can play at."
That left Lookman somewhat in limbo by the summer of 2019 and speculation surfaced again linking him with Leipzig but with Southampton and Bournemouth as well.
However, it would RB Leipzig who would persuade Everton that the
potential superstar with the attitude would be much happier playing in
the Bundesliga, and a permanent move was completed in July 2019, drawing
a line under what was a promising but, ultimately, frustating transfer of a player who never seemed entirely at ease on Merseyside.
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