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Lookman wants the Super Eagles, but should Nigeria want him?

The Everton wideman’s stock has fallen since rejoining RasenBallsport Leipzig on a permanent deal

Of the 12 Nigerian players who entered the Champions League group stage, only two—Tammy Abraham of Chelsea and RasenBallsport Leipzig’s Ademola Lookman—progressed to the knockout stages.

Following the former’s decision to commit to representing England at senior level, despite having been ‘claimed’ by NFF chief Amaju Pinnick in the past, Lookman remained the only Nigerian player still standing by the time the knockouts began this week.

The 22-year-old had, once upon a time, appeared destined to follow in Abraham’s footsteps into the Three Lions’ senior set-up.

He progressed through England’s youth teams—from U-19 to U-20—and even made 11 appearances for the U-21 team between 2017 and 2019.

It was with the national side that Lookman’s reputation truly swelled in 2017, when he was part of the side that won the U-20 World Cup.

In truth, only sporadically have fans seen anything like the quality he demonstrated during that tournament, when he memorably netted three goals including two against Costa Rica in the knockouts.

In the early part of 2018, the wonderkid reaffirmed his talent on loan at RB Leipzig, where he scored five in 11 and proved that he could be a difference-maker in a major European league.

Everton couldn’t make it work? Not a problem, their loss, was to be someone else’s gain.

Lookman had 21 appearances in the Premier League last term to demonstrate to Marco Silva that he had a role to play for the Toffees moving forward, but as Alex Iwobi arrived at Goodison Park in the summer, so his compatriot left, returning to Germany—and to Leipzig—on a five-year deal.

Since then, however, things haven’t gone to plan.

Lookman was an unused substitute on Wednesday as Julian Nagelsmann’s side downed Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at the New White Hart Lane to take a giant step towards the quarter-finals, having played a peripheral role throughout the campaign so far.

He hasn’t played 90 minutes in the Bundesliga since late October, has managed just 36 minutes since then, and has started just two games, in all competitions, all season.

Admittedly, he’s struggled with injury—notably a back problem that laid him low into the winter—while the club’s managerial change has surely played a part, but Lookman has lacked rhythm and intensity when he has played, and has been a far shadow of the player who graced the fields of German football during his first tenure with RBL.

Despite his inactivity, he was the subject of reported transfer interest from the Premier League in the summer, with Newcastle United linked to his signature.

It remains to be seen whether a return to England would have represented a viable next step for Lookman; surely he needs to establish himself at one club following his false starts at Everton. He’s done it before at Leipzig, and turning his back on the German side after just six months would have represented further upheaval.

January was time to stick rather than twist.

Amidst his ongoing struggles, Lookman revealed that he was more open to representing the Super Eagles at senior level than had previously been suggested in some quarters.

“I’ve not changed my mind [on wanting to represent England],” he said, “but I’m open, and it’s good to have different opportunities.”

Nigeria Technical Assistant Tunde Adelakun also confirmed that an application for a nationality switch had been registered.

“Lookman has applied for the switch and all the documents are in order,” Adelakun told journalists. “It’s a positive step forward when made his commitment to Nigeria and we are just waiting for a Fifa clearance.

“Once the go-ahead is sorted, it will be up to coach Gernot Rohr to decide if his club performance would earn him a call-up.”

Could now be a good time for Rohr and the NFF to approach this once-coveted young talent and bring him into the international fold?

On one hand, the timing appears wrong; with Samuel Chukwueze, Samuel Kalu, Moses Simon, Josh Maja, Iwobi, Victor Osimhen, Ahmed Musa, Paul Onuachu, Emmanuel Dennis, Henry Onyekuru and even Kelechi Iheanacho all viable attacking options for the Super Eagles, there’s hardly an immense demand for a player of Lookman’s qualities.

Similarly, having not scored or assisted all term, it’s hard to make a case for him to be included in the squad for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Sierra Leone.

However, the timing could also be ideal.

With Lookman apparently at a low ebb, asking questions about his destiny, his future, and his ability to really make Qatar 2022 as part of the England squad, Nigeria would be wise to step in, put a proverbial arm around the youngster’s shoulder, and show him that he has a home in this exciting young Eagles team.

Certainly, Lookman is struggling right now, but he’s demonstrated with nine direct goal involvements in 10 Bundesliga outings at such a young age that he can be a key player at this level, even if he’s fallen on hard times.

The 22-year-old has taken the road less travelled to get to this stage in his career—a point off top spot in the Bundesliga and 90 minutes away from the Champions League final eight—as a player who only entered the professional football circuit six years ago.

Perhaps in a few months, he’ll have rediscovered his mojo and be firing Leipzig to the first title in their history, England might be interested again, and it would be too late.

Forget his poor form, Nigeria must act now to secure the future of a precocious talent who still has a lot to offer.`

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