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SUPER EAGLES NEW BOY, ADEMOLA LOOKMAN: Growing up in rough neighbourhood made me tough

Fulham boss Scott Parker has stuck by his excitable forward Ademola Lookman despite the failed penalty against West Ham in November. About a month later, Lookman and his mates confronted league champions Liverpool at Craven Cottage to provide a heart warming performance that got their fans asking for more. And Lookman was at the heart of it.

The England U19 and U21 winger born to Nigerian parents led the team as they got away with 1-1 score line at the 25,000 capacity Craven Cottage field.

With the fans threw up the challenge with their voices sounding loud and clear the Fulham players responded in kind to the energy, the boos and jeers at the Liverpool players, the cries of cheat when Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane went down easily in Fulham’s penalty area, the elation when Bobby De Cordova-Reid thudded them in front in the 25th minute.

Perhaps no player thrived more from it all than Ademola Lookman, who set up De Cordova-Reid for his strike with a deliciously succinct through-ball, one that he tried successfully on numerous occasions all game.

The goal coming, even, from a corner that Lookman had won, bringing the ball down and under control on the left where he skulked all match, cutting inside and forcing Liverpool’s goalkeeper Alisson to push his effort wide. Liverpool failed adequately to clear the subsequent corner and Lookman opened them up, allowing his team-mate to drive the ball past Alisson.

Six weeks ago, there was a stage when Lookman could have sank or swam, following the Panenka penalty eight minutes into stoppage time that cost Fulham a point they so desperately needed against West Ham.

There is confident, and then there is misguided, and it was the worst possible time for the 23-year-old to get those two concepts mixed up, dinking the ball from the spot into Lukasz Fabianski’s welcoming arms.

Parker says that Lookman has a tendency to be easily disappointed if things do not go his way, and the torrent of negativity that was aimed at him online via memes and videos could have set Lookman back.

Maybe that inclination to let the head drop is why the Under 17 World Cup winner with England is yet to produce these kinds of performances on enough of a consistent basis to propel him higher than a newly promoted Premier League side. Instead, he has drifted: from Everton to RB Leipzig and now on loan to Fulham.

Maybe it is just timing. Of that group who beat Venezuela in the final back in 2017, Dominic Calvert-Lewin is only now excelling in the blue half of Merseyside, while Kyle Walker-Peters is also establishing himself at Southampton.

For a winger, Lookman is not too arrogant to defend – a trait that modern managers at the top come to expect. When Fulham were pinned back by Liverpool in the second half Lookman pitched in with dogged defensive discipline, and he was the main outlet to launch any counter-attacks out of their half with his pace.

He is rapid when needed: adopting his constant style of jogging or near-walking, his wide shoulders rotating as though winding up a spring-loaded clockwork inside that he can activate at any moment.

It certainly left Liverpool’s players perplexed. Trent Alexander-Arnold struggled to cope at right-back. Central midfielder Jordan Henderson and centre-back Joel Matip regularly had to come across to cover. Salah even joined in at one stage, and Curtis Jones was eventually booked for hustling

Lookman is blessed with footballing talent.

He’s also two-footed and has immaculate control which leads him to provide Everton with a direct attacking threat and that has so often sparked calls for the 23-year-old to feature more regularly in the starting XI.

His skills, and seeming maturity have arisen from his south London roots.

The attacker hails from Peckham, Southwark, which as a borough had a higher number of knife-related incidents (860) than any of the capital’s other 31 boroughs over the year of 2017/18 and also sees almost 37% of it’s children living in poverty.

“It is trouble, or it was a few years ago,” Lookman said.

Coming from a background where we did not have much and know what it was like, I just wanted to get out of that situation.

Ademola Lookman makes confidence admission over playing for Everton, where he first had Premiership experience before been loaned out to RB Leipzig of Germany.

“Round those areas you just play for fun – in the cages and on the streets.

“You are just doing your thing. It is freestyling and whatever happened on the pitch stayed there.”

Lookman is convinced, though, that growing up and playing football in that area – which the young Bundesliga talents of Jadon Sancho and now Arsenal’s on-loan Reiss Nelson both also did – has provided him with the nimble footwork he possess today.

He said it was playing football in Southwark’s tight cages and compact streets against physically superior opponents made him “think quicker”.

“Playing with older people, as well, they do not want you to mug them off and make fools of them so you had to be sharp,” he added.

We played against guys much older and they’d be trying to kick you.”

Lookman’s route into professional football is not a particularly well-trodden one.

He was still playing for Sunday league side Waterloo up until the age of 16 while also representing London FA under-16s.

It was for the representative side that he played a fixture against Charlton Athletic in 2014 – came off the bench and shone with his skill only to then be invited to train with the club, play a match for a youth team (in which he scored four goals) before then signing his first contract.

“I have always thought about football in terms of enjoying myself,” Lookman said.

“I still play football for fun and that is what I want to do my whole career, God willing.

“I enjoy expressing myself and I enjoy the pressure of football.

“You may not think it but when I was playing Sunday league (for Waterloo), I was feeling pressure – I don’t want to sound big headed but I was the main player in the team and always wanted to do better than last week.

“I always believed in my talent, always believed in myself and what I could do.

“I knew one day I would get spotted but the problem was I didn’t know when.”

In 2016 Lookman was named the Championship apprentice of the year at the Football League awards and after 49 games for Charlton and 12 goals he started to attract interest from a host of Premier League clubs before moving to Merseyside in 2017.

He scored almost instantly after coming off the bench in his debut against Manchester City in a 4-0 win for Everton in January last year but then moved to RB Leipzig in the second half of last season for some more game time.

Lookman impressed in the Bundesliga as the club pushed for one of the coveted European spots and directly contributed to one goal for every 52 minutes he was on the pitch.

Back at Goodison, the creative attacker produced a series of wonderful displays in late October through November off the bench and was handed his first start of the campaign against Newcastle on December 5. He warmly accepts that he appeared to try too hard to impress on his return to the team that day.

“The different pressures can be good or bad,” he said.

“Against Newcastle I put too much pressure on myself, instead of relaxing and playing like I always have.

“But in the past few games I have just been myself.”

Dips in form to other players in Lookman’s position make it clear that this could be his time for the quality he has teased fans with so far to be displayed more prominently.

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