As the Allman Brothers Band famously sang, you can’t lose what you never had.
They were not, of course, referring to the peculiar tale of Ademola Lookman’s short Everton spell, but they might as well have been.
It is 19 months since the Wandsworth youngster exploded onto the Premier League landscape with a debut goal in the 4-0 trouncing of Manchester City, but fears are now growing that his time on Merseyside will soon be curtailed.
Since that euphoric day, it has been a rather arduous experience for Lookman. Starved of game time last season under Ronald Koeman and Sam Allardyce, he took the brave move to spend the second half of the campaign on loan at German club RB Leipzig, where he impressed hugely, scoring 5 goals in 11 appearances, mostly as a substitute.
It seemed inevitable that Leipzig would come back in for him. The Bundesliga side have reportedly had numerous bids knocked back by Everton, including of £22 million last week and another one of £25 million even more recently. If the Toffees’ apparent asking price of £28 million plus add-ons is met before the German transfer deadline next Friday, it would be hard to begrudge selling a player yet to feature this season.
It is easy to sympathise with Lookman. Throughout his time at Goodison Park, he has come across as a shy, timid character, and for a player who left home at 19 with only a season-and-a-half of first team experience, to feel burdened by the hefty £11.5 million fee would be understandable.
Koeman’s comments following his transfer from League One Charlton Athletic, saying the Blues “expect a lot” from Lookman, hardly smacked of easing him into a potentially daunting environment. Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Wednesday Night Club last week, the Daily Mail’s Ian Ladyman provided a compelling insight into Lookman’s transfer:
“When he [Lookman] was signed from Charlton, a scout from one of the top clubs that I speak to a lot expressed great surprise that Everton had taken him back then, because he said all the top clubs had looked at him and the feeling has been that he’s not quite up to it.”
Social media’s influence is overemphasised far too frequently, but a picture posted by young Everton midfielder Joe Williams in April 2017, before the away fixture at Manchester United, hardly alluded to an easy integration for Lookman. While Williams was accompanied by his smiling team-mates, Lookman could be seen alone in the background, headphones in, hands in pockets, expressionless.
Joe Williams on Instagram. pic.twitter.com/11vgEATJoF— Everton Blue Army (@EvertonBlueArmy) April 5, 2017
Even if he was struggling to adjust to life up north, it surprised many that a player as exciting and vibrant as Lookman was such a sporadic feature on Ronald Koeman’s team sheet last season, especially considering the sheer dearth of vitality in the Dutchman’s side. The likes of Tom Davies and Nikola Vlasic, both 20, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, 21, were given ample game time as Koeman scrambled around unsuccessfully for a winning formula, but Lookman less so.
Allardyce used him just as sparingly, and his blatant mismanagement of the patently gifted player lacking in confidence proved the final straw for Lookman. On January 29, Paul Joyce, northern correspondent for The Times, tweeted that Allardyce said he was unavailable for loan. Two days later, his temporary switch to Leipzig was confirmed, with Allardyce immediately deriding his decision, saying “his stubbornness got his own way in the end.” It is little wonder that Lookman did not trust the perennial firefighter with overseeing his development.
The next weekend, after a pathetic Everton were embarrassed 5-1 at Arsenal, Allardyce was asked if Lookman could have conjured up the sort of magic that fellow wingers Yannick Bolasie and Theo Walcott failed to. His supine response surely made for crushing reading from the player’s perspective:
“I’ve got Yannick Bolasie [who] cost 30 million quid and I’ve got Theo Walcott [who] cost 20 million quid and both of them have got a lot more experience than Lookman, so no, if you put him out there he wouldn’t have done any better than the rest because the whole team played crap.”
Lookman cannot deny he has had opportunities in royal blue, though, and has shown a proclivity to drift on the periphery of games, rather than assert control of them. Should he leave, Evertonians would remember him for little more than his debut goal, a bright cameo appearance in last season’s FA Cup defeat at Liverpool, and a brace against a poor Apollon Limassol.
As such, if Everton receive nearly £20 million in profit for a player they have barely developed, that must constitute excellent business. For a club who have garnered a reputation as notoriously poor negotiators, this would be an almost uncharacteristically good deal for the Blues.
There is also a growing sense among Evertonians that Lookman’s heart is, indeed, in Germany. Some have depicted his countenance as similar to that of a sulking teenager, while his omission from new manager Marco Silva’s matchday squads against Wolverhampton and Bournemouth, despite Silva repeatedly calling him Everton’s “present and future”, has only perpetuated the feeling of the player wanting out.
If so, it makes sense to sell him now, not least because history dictates that good rarely comes from retaining an unhappy player against their will. Though partly the player’s doing, Everton had their fingers burnt in Ross Barkley’s protracted move to Chelsea, and in today’s hyperinflated climate, should have received more than a paltry £15 million for the midfielder. In comparison, the supposed asking price for Lookman, a player who has accomplished a fraction of what even Barkley achieved at Goodison, appears astronomical.
While Silva has clarified he likes Lookman as a player, something is clearly afoot. Whether he is merely trying to increase his value by reiterating his qualities remains to be seen, but even in setting an asking price for Lookman, Everton are essentially putting him up for sale. Rather than barricading the door up against Leipzig, the club have simply demanded an exorbitant entry fee.
Lookman may soon get his chance; if he remains at the club by Wednesday, he will surely feature in the Carabao Cup tie against Rotherham United, while fellow winger Richarlison’s red card at Bournemouth on Saturday elevates his position in the pecking order of wide men, if only temporarily.
Ultimately, though, he is likely to find himself third or fourth-choice behind the Brazilian, Theo Walcott and Bernard for much of the season. For a player with as much promise as Lookman, it is understandable if he feels this could hinder his progression. What promises Leipzig have made him remain to be seen as they already have Emil Forsberg, Bruma and Marcel Sabitzer on the books.
In many ways, this saga is the first real test of the conviction of both Silva and new director of football Marcel Brands. If Lookman wants in, it is up to Silva to succeed where his predecessors failed and coax the best out of him. If he wants out, it is up to Brands to strike the best deal possible, while Silva must ensure the player does not become an unwanted distraction. After the number of glaringly non-committal players on the club’s books recently, Everton must show they have learnt from their mistakes.
In an ideal world, Lookman would commit to Everton and blossom into the player Silva evidently believes he can be. But if he can’t get fully on board with the club’s vision, he must be made to get off now, before any potential toxicity threatens to derail the season.
If the tolling bell is to ring on his time at Everton, he would leave not as a star player, but rather as unfulfilled potential.
And unlike the former, you can put a price on the latter.