Sometimes things just don’t work out in particular circumstances and it could be that Ademola Lookman and Everton were never meant to be. If so, it would be a massive shame.
If Ademola Lookman ever finds his place in life and can develop the consistency in his game that he has lacked since he left Charlton Athletic as a hugely exciting teenager two years ago, he will make some team and their fans very happy.
Sadly, it just doesn't look like that will be at Everton.
Even in today’s hyper-inflated domestic market, £10m is a lot to shell out on an unproven 19-year-old but sometimes that is what is required to land a player with big potential before rival clubs step in. And that's what Everton, under then-Director of Football Steve Walsh did, and the manager at the time, Ronald Koeman, was sufficiently impressed that he blooded Lookman within a couple of weeks of him arriving from The Valley.
Of course, the diminutive forward repaid the faith with a debut goal in that memorable destruction of Manchester City in January 2017 and it looked as though Walsh had unearthed one of the gems for which he became famous at Leicester City.
If there were concerns that the shy, unassuming kid from London might find the transition to Merseyside hard, there were indications that Romelu Lukaku would take Lookman under his wing and help integrate him into his new surroundings. Just months later, though, Lukaku would be gone, sold to Manchester United for a record fee so he could pursue the Champions League dream he had long sought; all the while, rumours began to surface of a lonely Lookman kicking his heels in The Titanic Hotel with homesickness setting in.
If true, those whispers wouldn't have painted a far-fetched picture; young players transplanted out of their element, away from family, friends and everything they have ever known can often — and understandably so — find the change hard.
It was curious, then, that in January last year, having seemingly been overlooked by Koeman and David Unsworth in the early months of the 2017-18 season, largely ignored by Sam Allardyce and then lined up by the Dudleyite for a loan move to Derby County, the 20-year-old opted not for the Championship but for the Bundesliga.
If there is a cultural shift involved in moving from the UK’s capital to Merseyside, surely the transition to an entirely foreign country with a different language represented a risky move for a relatively untried young player. That was the assertion made by Allardyce at the time who warned Lookman has was making a mistake, yet the Southwark-born lad would take to the German league like the proverbial duck to water.
Whether it was the surroundings, the coaching and the system employed by Red Bull Leipzig, or the new lease on life away from the malcontent at Everton, Lookman made an instant impact, scoring five goals and registering two assists in 11 appearances. That inevitably led to a concerted effort by Leipzig to sign the player on a permanent basis last summer, a move that Lookman himself was keen to make but, no doubt aware of the rough diamond they had inherited, Marco Silva and Marcel Brands insisted that he was not for sale.
“I told him and our board on the first day that I believe in his skills and his profile,” Silva said at the time. “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 his position.”
Lookman’s use of social media during the last transfer window, in which he did more than hint at where he now wanted to play his club football, perhaps gave an indication of the issues around his mentality and motivation that may have held him back during Silva’s first season in charge.
And yet, once the avenue of returning to Leipzig was closed off, he seemed to accept it and spoke of his desire to knuckle down and earn his opportunities at Everton.
“I'm at Everton and I will do my best and train hard,” he said last autumn. “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.”
His path to the first team was initially blocked by Theo Walcott but, when the former Arsenal winger’s form fell away, the conditions were far more in Lookman’s favour to gain a foothold in the side. Unfortunately, despite a collective yearning among the fanbase to see the talented young forward given playing time on a consistent basis, Ademola would make just three Premier League starts over the course of 2018-19 but did register a goal on one of his cup appearances, that coming in a 2-1 win over Lincoln City in January.
All the ingredients appeared to be there; a more settled Everton camp, progress being made on the pitch under a more dynamic, attack-minded coach, and the club’s faith in him confirmed. Blessed with a turn of pace, mesmerising trickery on the ball, a wicked shot and the confidence to use it, Lookman has all the ability to make it as a top-class Premier League player. Concerns voiced by Koeman, seemingly echoed in the minds of Unsworth and Allardyce, over the defensive side of his game seemed less of an issue under Silva, particularly if he could be used off the bench to win or kill games in the closing stages.
Lookman remained on the periphery, however, with the question marks mounting as to why; why have four successive managers not seen fit to use him on a regular basis when his raw talent, as exhibited in the final Europa League group game against Apollon Limassol demonstrated, was so obvious?
Silva’s comments a couple of months ago pointed to consistency and, perhaps unsaid, a lack of application or focus: “I see one Lookman doing fantastic things one day and I say: 'Okay, it will be this week' and maybe the next day I have doubts. I don't want this because, in my opinion, he has big, big potential.”
Ultimately, unless something significant changes this summer, “unrealised potential” is likely to be the epitaph on Lookman’s Goodison career and it would be a massive shame if that were to be the case. Even worse would be if the 21-year-old went the way of someone like Saido Berahino, a player who seemed to have the world at his feet but just couldn’t get his act together. The ball would appear to be in his court but sometimes things aren’t meant to be; sometimes things just don’t work out in particular circumstances and maybe Ademola Lookman and Everton were never meant to be.
The player would seem to have options this summer if he does want to make a new start elsewhere. His former coach at Leipzig, Ralph Hasenhuttl, is rumoured to want him at Southampton and Bournemouth are said to be interested, as are Red Bull, of course. It looks as though it would be best for all concerned if he moves on, Everton collect a tidy profit and invest it elsewhere... but Blues fans might forever wonder what might have been — particularly if he becomes a star elsewhere.