Everton kicked off their summer spending with a £40m deal for Richarlison, but what could it mean for Ademola Lookman Olajade Alade Aylola? As he is linked with a permanent exit to German side RB Leipzig, Nick Wright wonders whether letting him go would be a mistake.
Ademola Lookman collected Naby Keita’s pass, surged into space on the edge of Borussia Monchengladbach’s box and fired a diagonal shot into the bottom corner. The 20-year-old had only been in Germany for two days and only stepped off the bench 11 minutes earlier, but with that late winner at Borussia-Park, his RB Leipzig loan spell was off to the best possible start.
Lookman had arrived from Everton with a point to prove. The forward, a £7.5m signing from Charlton in January 2017, had only made one start in the previous two months at Goodison Park. Sam Allardyce felt his development would be best served with a temporary move to the Sky Bet Championship, but his preference for Germany was already making sense.
The circumstances were not the easiest, with Leipzig stuttering to a sixth-placed finish in the Bundesliga, but Lookman eventually forced his way into the team, impressing enough for the club to try to sign him permanently. “I’ve learned so many things,” he said in April. “We want him back,” added Leipzig sporting director-turned head coach Ralf Rangnick.
It is easy to understand RB Leipzig’s interest. Lookman contributed five goals and three assists in just 576 minutes of Bundesliga action in total. His average of a goal contribution every 72 minutes was the second best in the division – behind only Robert Lewandowski and ahead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Thomas Muller and James Rodriguez.
Lookman had to be patient initially, but he can hardly be accused of failing to take his chances. In the space of just a few months, he grasped the tactical demands of playing for one of the Bundesliga’s most forward-thinking sides. His pace and one-on-one ability delighted supporters. According to Opta, he even created more chances per 90 minutes than any other Leipzig player.
“We didn’t see too much of Lookman for a few weeks after the Monchengladbach goal because he couldn’t play in the Europa League and he hadn’t trained much, but he took the hearts of the fans by storm after that because of his spectacular style, his dribbling and his direct movement,” Matthias Kießling, an RB Leipzig blogger who runs the RBLive! website, tells Sky Sports.
Ademola Lookman created more chances per 90 minutes (2.7) than any other RB Leipzig player in the 2017/18 Bundesliga season.
“In the last five games of the season he was, maybe together with Jean-Kevin Augustin, Leipzig’s best player. He still has to improve his decision-making, sometimes he loses the ball in the wrong areas, but he is a very effective offensive player with a lot of ideas. RB Leipzig would be crazy if they didn’t try their hardest to get him back to Germany.”
It is curious, then, that Everton do not appear to value Lookman as highly. He has taken part in pre-season preparations with new manager Marco Silva, who insists he wants him to stay at the club, but reports in Germany suggest RB Leipzig are getting closer to meeting Everton’s £20m valuation. Ragnick has already said that Lookman is keen on the move.
Everton’s £40m expenditure on Richarlison adds further fuel to the fire. Like Lookman, the Brazilian’s favoured position is on the left-hand side of the attack. He is already trusted by Silva, who convinced him to join Watford over Ajax last summer, and the club-record outlay dictates that he is unlikely to be anything other than a certain starter.
Richarlison is only a year older than Lookman and his potential was obvious in his early months at Watford, but by the end of the campaign Lookman had scored the same number of league goals (five) and – if you include his brief appearances for Everton in the first half of the campaign – the same number of assists (four) in roughly a quarter of the minutes.
The statistics warrant raised eyebrows. Lookman is an England U21 international regarded as one of the best players in his age group, and those who know him best say he has the character to match his ability. In conversation with Sky Sports last year, Charlton youth coach Jason Euell described him a “humble boy” who “hates being injured and always wants to do extra work”.
Lookman made a similar impression at Leipzig. “He stayed focused even when he wasn’t playing and took his chance when he got it,” says Kießling. “There were no complaints about his attitude. He was always willing to develop his abilities, taking hints from Coach Ralph Hasenhuttl about what he should work on. He was a team player, too, always giving team-mates chances to score.”
Could Everton not provide assurances for a player of his skill, personality and potential? Last season, nobody there came close to averaging a goal or assist every 72 minutes. The departed Wayne Rooney was the only player to even reach double figures for goals, with widemen Theo Walcott, Yannick Bolasie and Kevin Mirallas all struggling to make the desired impact.
All the while, Lookman was doing the opposite in Germany. From the moment he hit that low strike past Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Tobias Sippel back in February, RB Leipzig knew they had a special player on their hands. It is not clear whether Everton feel the same way.