Andriy Shevchenko. Diego Milito. Cristiano Ronaldo. Krzysztof Piątek. Romelu Lukaku. Adamola Lookman.
Looking at the full list of players to have scored 12 or more goals in their first 20 Serie A games, it certainly comes as no surprise to see the top three while Lukaku’s influence in his first spell at Inter is undeniable.
Poland international Piątek may have faded after his incredibly bright start – and a big move to AC Milan – but just to be under such an illustrious company goes to show just how good Lookman has been for Atalanta so far.
In fact, the 25-year-old has registered 12 goals (and three assists) in just 19 Serie A games, being used as a substitute in five of those games. It’s also worth noting that just one of his goals – his first – came in a game he started on the bench, while Lookman scored another two in his only Coppa Italia start.
To make that feat even more remarkable is the fact that over the previous four seasons combined, he only managed 10 league goals in 92 games. Obviously, some of this is simply part of the maturation process, but a deeper look at his journey thus far reveals far more nuance.
After starting at Charlton, Lookman joined Everton in January 2017 for £11m ($13.41m) with Ronaldo Koeman in charge at Goodison Park. When the player joined RB Leipzig on loan a year later, he had seen the Dutch boss sacked, playing under interim boss David Unsworth and then under permanent new manager Sam Allardyce.
Lookman impressed the German side with five goals in 11 Bundesliga games but he spent the 2018/19 season back at Everton, playing for Marco Silva after Allardyce’s sacking.
“As a young player, it’s difficult to go through that process because you never know what the next manager is going to think,” Lookman recently told The Athletic’s Sarah Shephard.
“But if you believe in your abilities, you believe that any manager who comes in is going to like you. But at that time they changed managers because the team itself was not stable. So they didn’t want to take any chances putting me in.”
A £22.5million ($27.44million) deal would see Lookman return to Leipzig, followed by loans at Fulham and Leicester City, but eventually he craved some stability.
“I’ve had a few offers in England and thought, ‘What do I really need next season?’ He continued in the aforementioned interview with The Athletic.
“I sat down with my family and when Atalanta came in we just decided that this is another phase in the journey that we need to go through because we felt it was important that I had another shift will be added. ”
A key factor in the deal was undoubtedly Atalanta director Lee Congerton, who was at Leicester with Lookman and is responsible for scouting new players for La Dea.
But also in Italy was Gian Piero Gasperini, who has been at the helm at Bergamo since June 2016, just seven months after an 18-year-old lookman made his professional debut for Charlton.
It also means Gasperini has been Atalanta’s coach for over six and a half years, while the second longest-serving Serie A boss is Stefano Pioli, who spent just three years and three months on the bench at AC Milan.
No other manager has so far managed to stay in charge for two full years, a statistic that underscores how unique Atalanta’s situation is, something their newest star has already fully embraced.
“We have an amazing team, a strong team, a team full of talent, a team full of hunger and passion, so big things are on the team’s horizon,” Lookman told The Times.
“I’ve started eating a lot of simple foods like white pasta and more fish. This is my diet. no sauce A little veggies. Sleep is very important, try to come in eight hours. After the games I’ll recover, maybe go to the cryochamber, do some upper body work, stretch a bit.
“[Gasperini] is intense, a strong man, a top coach,” he continued. “He always wants us to attack, he loves to see goals. But there is a structure: He wants us to work through the thirds. I definitely have a defensive role to help the team within the structure, but that defensive role also allows me to attack.”
This willingness to adapt, change, grow and improve has clearly served Lookman well as his 12 goals puts him behind only Nigerian team-mate Victor Osimhen in the race for Serie A top scorer – the subject of that previous column.
It’s an incredible return on the €15m Atalanta paid Leipzig to sign him last summer and his new boss is clearly delighted with what he’s seen so far.
“He has technique, pace, is a player that any coach would be happy with,” Gasperini told Sky Italia in October. “We noticed pretty quickly what he’s capable of, he convinced from the start.”
While those of us watching from the sidelines are stunned to see Ademola Lookman line up alongside Shevchenko, Ronaldo and Milito, the man himself believes he’s just doing what he’s supposed to be doing.
“Obviously I expected it,” he told Sky Italia when asked about his incredible scoring streak. “Maybe it will come as a surprise to you, but I know what I can bring, I know what I can do.”
Now the whole Serie A knows it too.