Lookman hat-trick 'beyond anyone's wildest dreams'

Atalanta players lift Ademola Lookman up in celebration
Ademola Lookman became the first player to score a hat-trick in a single leg Europa League final [Getty Images]

Ademola Lookman's Europa League-winning hat-trick was "beyond anyone's wildest dreams," his former academy coach at Charlton Athletic Steve Avery said.

The 26-year-old Nigeria international scored three spectacular, unanswered goals for Atalanta as the Italian side ended Xabi Alonso and Bayer Leverkusen's 361-day unbeaten run with a 3-0 win in the final in Dublin.

Having started both legs of Atalanta's quarter-final victory against Liverpool, where they won 3-0 on a memorable night at Anfield before the Reds beat them 1-0 in Bergamo, Lookman ran riot against the Bundesliga champions.

He stole in at the back post for the first, bent the ball into the bottom corner with his right foot for the second, before rifling home into the top-right corner with his left to complete the first hat-trick in a major European final since Jupp Heynckes for Borussia Monchengladbach in the 1975 Uefa Cup.

'It was written in the stars'

A clip of West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski easily saving Lookman's attempted Panenka penalty during a loan spell at Fulham circulated on social media after the game, showing what a transformative performance this was.

But for Charlton academy director Avery, the quality was always there.

"He was so exciting to watch. That second and third goal - I've seen him do that here, so I'm not surprised," he told BBC Sport London.

"You always wanted him to get on the ball, you weren't sure what would happen sometimes but you knew there was a good chance of it exciting you.

"I don't think it would have been in anyone's wildest dreams that that would have happened."

Lookman has won 21 caps and scored six goals for Nigeria, starting the Super Eagles' 2-1 final defeat by Ivory Coast in the Africa Cup of Nations this year.

But long before that, as a boy growing up in Wandsworth, south London, he played for Waterloo FC between the ages of nine and 16.

Oliver Reynolds was one of his coaches and said he saw the "Lookman of old" against Leverkusen.

"I woke up this morning and just said 'pinch me because I'm pretty sure that was a dream' - we loved every minute of it," he said.

"But, man, it was written in the stars for Ademola Lookman."

Ademola Lookman shoots from distance to score his second goal against Bayer Leverkusen
Ademola Lookman strikes his second goal of the night at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin [Getty Images]

'He's playing for a club that believes in him'

Lookman began his career in south-east London before moving to Everton in January 2017, where he marked his debut from the bench with the final goal in the Toffees' 4-0 victory against Pep Guardiola's Manchester City.

That would be his only Premier League goal for the club as he was restricted to just seven league starts in two seasons at Goodison Park.

A six-month loan spell at RB Leipzig followed, with a permanent move to the Red Bull Arena coming a year later in 2019.

After just one Bundesliga start and no league goals, Lookman was loaned out again and returned to London with Fulham.

He scored four times for the Cottagers as they were relegated from the Premier League under Scott Parker and spent the 2021-22 season on loan with Leicester City, scoring eight goals in all competitions as the Foxes finished eighth in the top flight.

Across five and a half seasons he started 62 of his 118 league appearances. Remove his spell from Fulham and that becomes 31 starts in 84.

Since moving to Atalanta in 2022, he has played 76 matches and started 52 of them.

"He's been playing at that elite level but the difference here is that he's playing at a club that clearly has some belief to continue to work with him and develop him, and for him to strike up a relationship with them as well," Avery said.

"Now he has fully established himself at that club, in that league, and he as put himself right up there now in terms of his European achievements."

Ademola Lookman chips a 'Panenka' penalty, which was easily saved by Lukasz Fabianski in the West Ham goal
Clips of Ademola Lookman's failed Panenka penalty for Fulham circulated on social media after the Europa League final [Getty Images]