Lookman: Super Eagles defender backs Leverkusen destroyer to dethrone Osimhen as African king

Nigeria defender Kenneth Omeruo believes his compatriot Ademola Lookman deserves to be crowned the 2024 CAF Footballer of the Year for his exploits this season. Lookman is currently one of the best wingers in Europe’s top five leagues after being involved in a combined 23 goals and assists this term.

The 26-year-old has been delivering impressive performances week in, and week out in the Serie A but finally announced himself to the rest of the world when he dominated the UEFA Europa League final against Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday evening.

Lookman scored all three goals as Atalanta ended the German champions’ record-breaking unbeaten run to win the first European trophy in their history. The Nigeria international’s performance was one of the greatest individual displays in a European final and chalked up a number of firsts in the process.

Not only did Lookman become the first African to score a hat-trick in a Europa League final but he also became only the sixth player ever to find the back of the net three times in the final of a major UEFA competition. By lifting the Europa League with Atalanta, Lookman’s claim to the CAF Footballer of the Year throne has gained more credibility.

Kenneth Omeruo tips Ademola Lookman for CAF Footballer of the Year award 

The Europa League final was dubbed as a straight shootout between Lookman and Victor Boniface for the CAF Footballer of the Year prize. Just like Lookman, Boniface has also enjoyed an impressive season with Leverkusen, having scored 21 goals and provided 10 assists.

The 23-year-old was on course to win the treble with Xavi Alonso’s side after already being crowned Bundesliga champions. However, their hopes of attaining a clean sweep of trophies were dashed after losing to Atalanta in the Europa League final.

Boniface and Leverkusen may yet end the season with the double, as they have the DFB Pokal final against FC Kaiserslautern to come on Saturday, but Lookman’s brilliant individual performance in the Europa League final makes him many people’s favourite to win the coveted CAF Footballer of the Year award.

The reigning CAF Footballer of the Year is Victor Osimhen but the Napoli star hasn’t managed to hit the heights of last season, where he fired the Partenopei to the Serie A title and also emerged as the league’s top scorer. 

When Osimhen won the prestigious individual award last year, he became the first Nigeria to win it since Nwankwo Kanu in 1999 and Omeruo believes Lookman has done enough to succeed his compatriot as the best player on the continent. Reacting to the 26-year-old hat-trick that won Atalanta the Europa League, Omeruo described Lookman as a top player and said he deserves to be the CAF Footballer of the Year

“@CAF_Online your African Player of the Year… Ademola Lookman top player,” the one-time Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) winner wrote on X (formerly Twitter). 

Why Lookman is now favourite for the 2024 CAF Footballer of the Year award

The CAF Footballer of the Year award is usually given to the footballer who has made the biggest impact in a calendar year. While there are still about seven months to go before the winner is crowned, Lookman has stolen an early lead among the frontrunners.

When Osimhen won the award last year, it was mainly for his contributions at club level after winning the Serie A with Napoli. The year before that, however, Sadio Mane was adjudged the best player on the continent after winning the AFCON with Senegal.

Ademola Lookman: Super Eagles defender backs Leverkusen destroyer to dethrone Osimhen as African king
Photo by Icon Sport

Lookman may not have won the AFCON, but he’s currently the favourite to annex the CAF Footballer of the Year prize due to his outstanding performances at both club and international levels. He helped Atalanta to reach two cup finals this season in the Coppa Italia and the Europa League. And in a year where the AFCON took place, performance in the tournament will be one of the defining factors.

Ivory Coast won this year’s AFCON but they didn’t have any outstanding individual performers whose overall achievements can compare to that of Lookman. Franck Kessie had a great tournament but he plays in Saudi Arabia and that will count against him, while the scorer of the goal that won the Elephants their third continental crown Sebastien Haller has been unavailable for Borussia Dortmund for much of the season due to injuries.

In Lookman’s case, he had an impressive AFCON and was named in the team of the tournament after scoring three goals en route to Nigeria finishing in second place. He has also had the most impact of any African footballer in Europe this season after firing Atalanta to the Europa League final. In what has been an amazing season for the Super Eagles star, he has contributed 15 goals and a further eight assists for Gian Piero Gasperini’s side.

Who are the other contenders for the CAF Footballer of the Year award?

Lookman is currently the favourite to scoop the 2024 CAF Footballer of the Year award, but there are other players who can stake also a claim. Between now and December when the award will be given out, a lot can change too.

Boniface’s inability to win the Europa League with Leverkusen is a big blow to his hopes of being crowned the best footballer on the continent but he’s still very much in contention to earn a nomination. Another contender for the coveted award is Guinea striker Serhou Guirassy, whose goals secured Stuttgart Champions League qualification and is also the second top scorer in the Bundesliga behind only Harry Kane.

Osimhen may have won nothing with Napoli this season but his numbers are still among the best-performing forwards from Africa after scoring 17 goals in all competitions, while Mohamed Salah is also firmly in the race. The Egypt captain has had a quiet campaign following Liverpool’s mixed season but has still managed 18 goals in the Premier League and 25 goals in all competitions, alongside 14 assists.

Morocco international Achraf Hakimi has also enjoyed a great campaign and was a key member of the Paris Saint Germain side that won Ligue 1 and also reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. It is set to be a keen race for this year’s CAF Footballer of the Year award, but Lookman seems to be the frontrunner after stealing the show in the Europa League final with his sensational hat-trick. 

Lookman: Super Eagles defender backs Leverkusen destroyer to dethrone Osimhen as African king
Emmanuel Ayamga

Emmanuel Ayamga is an Asante Kotoko fan and a passionate sports journalist with a little over five years of experience writing about African football.

His articles and features have been published in renowned news media like The Guardian, DW, Al Jazeera and Sportskeeda. His bylines can also be found in the UK journals World Soccer Magazine and These Football Times.