How Charlton unearthed Ademola Lookman
Charlton Athletic's under-21 coach, Jason Euell, talks to FFT about Ademola Lookman's rise from Sunday League footballer to Premier League star
The end of the season is a time of great uncertainty for academy players as they learn if they have done enough to earn a new contract and another step towards a career in professional football.
However, it can also provide unsigned players who have slipped through the net a chance to showcase their talents and make a late breakthrough into the game.
That's exactly what happened in 2014 when Ademola Lookman starred for Inner London - a team comprised of the best talent in the south of the capital - in a game against Charlton Athletic's under-16 side.
The League One club were so impressed with the winger, they signed him weeks later, despite the fact he had only ever previously played Sunday League football.
He has since gone on to shine in the Football League, before joining Everton for £11 million in January. Charlton's under-21 coach, Jason Euell, talks to FourFourTwo about his remarkable rise.
Jason, can you remember the first time you saw Ademola play?
He was a first year scholar. I knew we'd brought him into the academy late, but he really caught the eye when I watched him because he did things so naturally. He hadn’t worked on beating a player in a structured environment, it was just something that he did when he got the ball at his feet. Even his movement off the ball was natural, it was just there.
Did you feel like there was a bit of street footballer individuality about him?
He has no fear and it’s something we need to see more of in this country. Look at the way that Wayne Rooney broke onto the scene - he came in as a 16-year-old and he didn't care who he was playing against. It didn’t matter that he was the youngest player on the pitch, he treated it as just another game of football. I think that’s the best way for young players to play their football, with no fear.
Do you think his lack of fear came from coming into the game late?
I think it’s just because of his personality and I think he’d be the same regardless of whether he’d been at an academy earlier or not. He wants to play football all the time, he loves a ball at his feet. There were many times last season when he was happy to do recovery sessions because he just wanted to play football. If I was taking the under-23’s training he would come over and tap me on the shoulder and say ‘come on let’s play two touch’. I’d say ‘I can’t, I’m taking a training session’, but it’s just because he wants to play football all the time.
What is it about him that’s enabled him to make an impact so quickly?
He’s confident in what he wants to do and where he wants to go and he's got the work ethic alongside his ability. People look at talented players and what they do with the ball at their feet, but it’s what he does as well when having to do the defensive side of things. It’s not as if he’ll lose the ball and strut around, he will do what is needed to be done. He knows that if he wins the ball back, he’ll have it back at his feet, which is what he loves.
Did you have to teach him about the tactical side of the game and playing in different systems?
The only thing we really had to do was to get him to understand the means of knowing how to win football matches. At Charlton we are making it a competitive environment from a young age because ultimately it is about winning football matches and that’s the same at under-18, 21 and 23 level. Decision making was something else we worked on when he was in possession of the ball. Sometimes he wanted to do tricks and take players on in the wrong areas. Once you manage that, that’s where you can get the best out of a player like Ademola.
Was there a moment in a game where you realised just how good he was?
I think it was the start of the 15/16 season. He started the season in the under-18’s and in the first game of the season against QPR he scored four or five goals. I I think after the first three games he was on eight goals and it just got to that point where we had to bring him up to the under-23’s because we needed to give him a different challenge. I think in the 11 games or so he played for me last year, he scored four and made five assists. He gives you goals, he gives you assists, and work ethic.
Are you surprised how quickly he's progressed to Premier League football?
Not really no, I think as a club we managed his talent well. He’s a very quiet, humble person, and he's never let his rise go to his head. He neve once questioned not being in the starting line-up or playing for the first team. He’d be upset if he didn’t play, but he’d understand the reasons why he was taken out of the firing line. From a sports science point of view, we had to manage the change in intensity he’d experienced, his body had gone through a lot in a short space of time and we didn’t want him to suffer injuries.
Do you think he has more drive because he feared he was running out of chances to make it?
I don’t think it was going to be his last chance. I think there are a lot of players out there that do miss that window of opportunity and I think that’s what it is, a window of opportunity. For him that happened to be when he was playing against our under 16’s towards the end of that season and we signed him. I think if we hadn't i’m sure someone else would have done, because it does take that little bit of time to find that next one. Fortunately we had the right people out on the street to get the game arranged for him to basically showcase himself against us.
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