NIGERIA went into the Africa Cup of Nations boasting the best striker in the competition — maybe even the world.
Yet Napoli star Victor Osimhen has been outshone for the Super Eagles by another forward who was once of this parish.
GettyAdemola Lookman has been one of the best performers at Afcon[/caption]
ReutersVictor Osimhen has not found his shooting boots at the tournament[/caption]
Ademola Lookman was born in Wandsworth, came through at Charlton after being unearthed playing Sunday League, earned a big-money move to Everton and had loans to Fulham and Leicester.
He also won 11 caps for the England Under-21s. But in 2022 he switched allegiances to Nigeria, where his parents are from, and has not looked back since.
After netting both goals in the last-16 victory over Cameroon and then the winner against Angola in the quarter-finals, the 26-year-old has become a talisman for his adopted country.
He will be even more crucial for today’s semi-final against South Africa if Osimhen, 25, is ruled out with an abdominal complaint.
It is some rise for a player who may never have turned pro had he not been spotted by scouts when playing for Waterloo ten years ago.
He quickly worked his way into the Addicks first team, making his senior debut less than a fortnight after his 18th birthday, yet could not save the club from relegation from the Championship.
There was plenty of transfer buzz about him that summer but it was not until the following January that he earned a dream, £11million switch to the Prem with Everton.
Ricky Holmes, 36, battled with Lookman for a spot on the wing for half a season in League One and remembers an undeniable natural talent, albeit not a humble one.
Holmes, who is still playing with non-league Farnborough, told SunSport: “He thought he had already made it — but he still had a lot to learn.
“But he’s kicked on and had one hell of a career. I could only dream of achieving what he has.”
One of Lookman’s feats includes netting within a minute of coming on for his Toffees debut in a 4-0 victory over Manchester City in 2017, inflicting the joint-worst defeat of Pep Guardiola’s Etihad career.
Lookman’s story has been one of ambition, always looking for a chance to get game-time.
That is happening right now for his country and also for his club Atalanta in Italy’s Serie A, where he has scored 22 goals in 56 games.
He revealed last week how he still wants “to play at the highest level”, claiming in an interview how he is a “different player” to the one the Premier League recalls.
Lookman has certainly come on leaps and bounds since those early days at Charlton — just like another of Holmes’ old team-mates.
Holmes added: “He could do something out of the ordinary, similar to Ivan Toney. I played with Ivan when he was a young lad at Northampton.
“In training, they would just do something and you’d think, ‘Wow, this kid is special’.
“Ade would pick the ball up, dribble past two players and put it in the top corner and you’d think ‘How have you just done that?’
“You just knew, with that ability he was going to step up to bigger and better things and ultimately he has done.
“So has Ivan. Those kinds of players don’t come around often.”
Parker told SunSport: Parker told SunSport: “Ade is an unbelievable human being, grounded and respectful.
“He is someone who is always trying to improve and get better. It goes without saying he is a massive talent and has big quality.
“But for me it is his general professionalism and his attitude to want to constantly improve his game which makes him stand out.”
AFP or licensorsLookman scored on his Everton debut[/caption]
GettyHe is now impressing in the Serie A with Atalanta this season[/caption]