‘Nobody imagined Lookman being this prolific’ – Gasperini enraptured by UEL final showstopper

Atalanta manager Gian Piero Gasperini has admitted that nobody thought Ademola Lookman would become this good when he first joined the club two years ago.

Lookman joined the Italian side from RB Leipzig in 2022 for a fee in the region of €15 million. While the Nigeria international didn’t have much joy at his previous clubs, he has settled in seamlessly in Bergamo and has quickly become a cult hero. On Wednesday, Lookman wrote his name into the club’s history books when he fired them to their first-ever European title.

The 26-year-old started the Europa League final against Bayer Leverkusen and delivered an all-timer after netting a hat-trick against the German side as Atalanta sealed a 3-0 win. Lookman was by far the best player on the pitch and was ruthless in front of goal with his three well-taken strikes.

‘Nobody imagined Ademola Lookman being this prolific’ – Gasperini enraptured by UEL final hat-trick hero
Photo by Icon Sport

Leverkusen struggled for much of the night to contain the Nigerian, who ran riots on the left flank. Lookman’s first goal was a tap-in but his second and third demanded that he took on his man before finding the far corner and he executed both impressively to ensure Atalanta won their first European trophy.

Gaspirini praises Lookman’s development since joining Atalanta 

Lookman’s name has been in the headlines since his impressive display in the Europa League final and his manager has now revealed that nobody envisaged him reaching such heights when he first joined the club two years ago.

The former Everton forward arrived in Italy as an unproven and untested talent who was just desperate for regular game time. However, he has quickly established himself as a key player in successive seasons with the Black and Blues.

With 15 goals and eight assists to his name this season, he is among the top-scoring wingers across Europe’s major leagues. According to Gasperini, though, he only saw Lookman as a potential squad player when the forward was recommended to him by Lee Congerton. The 66-year-old said Lookman’s development has been impressive, adding that giving the Nigerian more license to attack has also helped to take his game to the next level.

“We had a senior manager at Atalanta [Lee Congerton] who had worked at Leicester, who saw the opportunity to bring him in and thought he was a possible useful player,’ Gasperini told BBC Sport.

“Nobody could ever imagine he could make this much progress. He wasn't overly prolific in England. I changed his position to a more attacking role. Tonight he achieved something which will remain in the annals of football history – a stunning hat-trick.”

Lookman’s youth coach revels in winger’s Europa League final heroics 

Meanwhile, Lookman’s mentor and youth coach Felix Emanus watched on from the pitch side as the Nigeria international shone in front of over 50,000 supporters inside the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Emanus coached Lookman while he was just a boy at the youth club Waterloo and has been following the winger’s progress since he became a professional footballer. Emanus couldn’t hold back his tears after watching Lookman score a hat-trick in the Europa League final, describing the moment as emotional.

‘Nobody imagined Ademola Lookman being this prolific’ – Gasperini enraptured by UEL final hat-trick hero
Photo by Icon Sport

He also lauded Lookman’s character and said having a quiet persona sometimes leads to people misunderstanding the “great kid” that Lookman is.  

“I really can't tell you my emotions – sky high. We've been dreaming about this for a long time, since Ade was a kid at Waterloo. Tonight was a dream come true. I cried when the third goal went in. I'm so happy for Ade. He works so hard, quiet lad. Sometimes misunderstood because of his quietness but he's a great kid. Wants to learn, wants to always get better and wants to reach the top,” Emanus said.

Ademola Lookman in great shape ahead of World Cup qualifiers 

Lookman’s strong end to the season is great news for Nigeria ahead of the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers next month. The Atalanta star is not just a great performer at club level but often translates his form to the national team whenever he wears the Super Eagles shirt.

After starring at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2024), where he scored three goals en route to Nigeria securing a second-place finish, the country will be counting on the 26-year-old to once again produce the goods when they face South Africa and Benin on June 7 and June 10, respectively.

Super Eagles head coach Finidi George is currently sweating over the fitness of striker Victor Osimhen, who sat out of Napoli’s Serie A game against Fiorentina last week. It is uncertain whether Osimhen will recover in time for the World Cup qualifiers, while Moses Simon and Samuel Chukwueze are also currently nursing long-term injuries.

Lookman is primed to be one of the first names on George’s team sheet when he announces his squad for the games against South Africa and Benin in the coming days. The winger is in great shape ahead of the qualifiers and his presence means Nigeria have a potent tool upfront that can hurt their opponents. Lookman has been capped 21 times by the Super Eagles and has scored six times in that period. 

‘Nobody imagined Lookman being this prolific’ – Gasperini enraptured by UEL final showstopper
Emmanuel Ayamga

Emmanuel Ayamga is a Ghanaian 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 Pulse Ghana, The Guardian, DW, Al Jazeera and Sportskeeda. His bylines can also be found in the UK journals World Soccer Magazine and These Football Times.