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Why Everton's Ademola Lookman can be the Football League's next breakout star
Last Updated: 15/01/17 11:16am
Everton parted with £10m to sign England youth international Ademola Lookman, so what's all the fuss about? Nick Wright examines the 19-year-old's potential and gets the inside track from one of the men who oversaw his development at Charlton Athletic.
When Everton poached Leicester's head of recruitment Steve Walsh in the summer, it was easy to understand the logic. The 52-year-old's reputation had hit new heights after he unearthed Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante to inspire Leicester's title triumph, and Everton were eager to apply the same expertise at Goodison Park.
Idrissa Gueye, Yannick Bolasie and Ashley Williams were the headline arrivals in Walsh's first transfer window as Everton's director of football, but last week they began their January spending with a less familiar addition.
Ademola Lookman arrives from Charlton as a little-known teenager with no Premier League experience. But at £10m, he is the most expensive ever signing from League One.
The fee reflects just how highly he is regarded by Everton. A rapid rise into Charlton's first team convinced Walsh that the speedy, skilful little forward could be the next breakout star from the lower leagues, and Ronald Koeman has already described him as an important part of his long-term vision for the club.
Like many of Walsh's best signings, Lookman has had an unconventional route to the top. The jump from League One to Premier League has drawn parallels with Dele Alli's move to Tottenham, but while Alli was on MK Dons' books from the age of 11, Lookman did not set foot in a professional academy until he was 16.
Charlton U21 coach and former Wimbledon striker Jason Euell remembers how Lookman came to the club's attention. "It was right at the end of the U16 year in 2014," he tells Sky Sports. "The majority of scholarship decisions had already been made, but every year our U16s play a game against Inner London, an FA side for the best players in south London."
Charlton had received a tip-off about Lookman. The youngster was playing what Euell describes as "innocent Sunday football" for an amateur team called Waterloo FC in the London borough of Lambeth, but he produced a dazzling performance for the county side in front of Charlton's watching coaching staff.
"He had no academy background at all," says Euell. "Sometimes it can happen that a player slips through the net, but we were lucky to already have a relationship with the county and with Waterloo FC. We signed him on a scholarship straight away."
Lookman was drafted into Charlton's U18 side during his first season at the club, scoring 17 goals in 29 appearances as they clinched both regional and national titles. It wasn't long before Premier League clubs started to take note, but Charlton are experts in youth coaching and understood the need to be cautious with his development.
"We knew the talent he had but sometimes it's about taking your time with someone like him," says Euell. "He had been training once or twice a week but he had to get used to every day, professional football while doing his school work. He had growing to do and he had to start a full-time weights programme, so we had to be careful with how we used him."
Lookman was eventually promoted to Euell's U21s, and in November 2015 he made his senior debut in a 1-0 defeat to MK Dons. Charlton's season would end in relegation to League One, but a little over a year on from playing Sunday league football, Lookman took the step up in his stride, scoring five goals in 24 appearances and landing the 2015/16 Championship Apprentice of the Year award.
Lookman's breakthrough was recognised with his first England U19 call-up last May. His outstanding attributes are his pace, dribbling and powerful finishing ability with both feet, but without any professional coaching before he joined Charlton, there were areas of his game which required extra attention.
"There were a lot of things he missed out on, and that was the learning and understanding of the game," says Euell. "Young lads always say they can play football, but then comes the tactical side of it, the game understanding and the decision-making process.
"We didn't want to stop Ademola from doing what he does because that's what makes him special, it was just about getting him to understand when and where to do certain things. At every level, every game is different. He had to learn what was needed from him in and out of possession."
Charlton rejected an offer from Crystal Palace in the summer, but Lookman never lost focus and added seven goals in 25 appearances for Charlton in the first-half of this season. Euell chuckles as he recalls having to drag him off the training pitch at Charlton's Sparrow's Lane headquarters. That determination to improve should serve him well at Everton.
"He's a great character and everyone else at the training ground would say exactly the same thing," says Euell. "He is just a humble boy who loves his football. He hates being injured and he always wants to do extra work. He just wants the ball at his feet and wants to improve. He's one of those guys who absolutely hates losing."
Charlton manager Karl Robinson only coached Lookman for a few weeks having taken over at The Valley in November, but he described the teenager as an "incredible talent" and a "joy to work with" when the deal was confirmed on Thursday. Lookman has made a positive impression on just about everyone who has known him, and he heads to Everton hoping for more of the same.
"He called me up yesterday to say goodbye," says Euell. "I said: 'Goodbye? It's only a see you later, you're only going up north!' We had a nice chat. I gave him a bit of advice and wished him well." Lookman is still learning, but he has the talent and he has the temperament too. In his new Merseyside surroundings, he might just become Walsh's latest success story.