‘Just the beginning’ – Atalanta hat-trick hero Lookman eyes more glory nights

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Image caption: Ademola Lookman scored with all three shots he took in Dublin

Ademola Lookman etched himself into Atalanta folklore with a Europa League final hat trick that he says didn’t catch him by surprise – although boss Gian Piero Gasperini admitted nobody could have expected his progress.
The London-born Nigeria winger became only the sixth player to score a hat-trick in a European final – the first since Jupp Heynckes for Borussia Monchengladbach in the 1975 Uefa Cup – with all three goals in the Italian side’s win over Bayer Leverkusen in Dublin.
That is the Bayer Leverkusen side led by Xabi Alonso, which had not lost a single game of football for 361 days.

Lookman, 26, had never managed double figures in a season for Charlton, Everton, RB Leipzig, Fulham or Leicester.
After this treble, the former England Under-21 winger, who now represents Nigeria at international level, has netted 15 goals in each of his two seasons with Atalanta.
Gasperini said: “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.
“Nobody could ever imagine he’d 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 was asked afterwards if he could have imagined this growing up in Wandsworth and when he started out at Charlton’s academy.
“Probably, yeah,” he replied. “I’ve always had the confidence in my ability.
“In the past two years, I’ve been able to take my game to a new level and show it on a more consistent basis.
“Maybe it could have come earlier but it’s come now. I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made but this is just the beginning. I hope for more nights like this.”
‘One of the best nights of my life’
Immediately after the final whistle, Lookman told TNT Sports “It’s one of the best nights of my life”. Perhaps understated.
A Dublin party was “100%” planned, he added. “We’ve got to celebrate, we made history tonight.”
Lookman joined Gasperini’s post-match news conference midway through and after the manager had left he spoke about the role he has had in his career.
“The past few years, the club and coach have supported me in terms of giving me minutes… it’s helped me elevate my game to a new level,” he added.
“The first few conversations we had, made me look at football a bit differently. It made it simpler in my mind in terms of what he expected from me.
“It made me look at, and play, my game in a different light. I’m very grateful to him.”
Lookman laughed when an Italian journalist claimed a street may be named after him in Bergamo one day.
The forward is one of about 120,000 people who live in the northern Italian city close to Milan.
“I feel the support from the fans from the first minute I was in Bergamo,” he added. “The city of Bergamo gives me a sense of calmness. It’s a very calm, relaxed city and that has helped me a lot with my living style. I’m focused on the important things.
Lookman’s mentor and coach of former youth side Waterloo, Felix Emanus, also spoke to TNT Sports after the game.
“I really can’t tell you my emotions – sky high,” he said. “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.”
Atalanta end trophy drought
Image caption: At the age of 66 years and 117 days, Gian Piero Gasperini is the oldest coach to win the Europa League
While this may be remembered as the Lookman final, Atalanta’s success is just as remarkable.
In their 116-year history, this was only their second trophy – after the 1963 Coppa Italia.
Just last week they lost the Coppa Italia final to Juventus. What a way to bounce back.
Gasperini’s men also became the first Italian team to win this tournament since 1999.
“I am hugely proud for all of Italy because it was a cursed trophy,” said the 66-year-old, who took charge of the club in 2016. “Having won it with Atalanta is perhaps one of those footballing fairytales that rarely crop up.
“It gives hope for meritocracy. It doesn’t come down to Super Leagues. You can show faith in other teams without big bills and budgets.
“Let’s try to savour this win before thinking about how far we can go next season. This team has grown with results. We’ve done so while making sure we balance the books or turn a profit and that’s the most exceptional element of this club.
“Typically the clubs who are winning things struggle to keep costs down. Atalanta have managed to win things while being a financially sustainable club. That’s extraordinary.”

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