300 & Counting: Just how “Big” of a player is Romelu Lukaku?

On Sunday, February 14th 2021, at the age of 27 years and 9 months, Romelu Lukaku scored the 300th goal of his professional career. An impressive feat, regardless of your opinion on the player. There has however, always been one prevalent criticism of Romelu, at least since his Everton days, that whilst he is clearly a very skilled and adept goalscorer, he consistently fails to deliver in the bigger games against tougher teams. I’ve always found this to be somewhat of a lazy criticism, but since he’s reached such a milestone at such a young age, I decided I’d do the research and find out if this widely-held belief actually has any weight to it. So let’s dive in.

The Story So Far

Romelu Lukaku made his senior debut for RSC Anderlecht against Standard Liege on May 24th, 2009, and scored his first senior goal three months later against SV Zulte Waregem at the age of 16 years and 3 months. Over the next two seasons, he would go on to make 98 appearances for Anderlecht, and would score a further 40 goals for his debut club, earning himself a 15 million Euro move to Chelsea in the summer of 2011. 

At Chelsea, he would fail to cement a place within the first team, making only 15 appearances that season, 14 of those coming from the bench. He would, however, chalk up his first Premier League goal contribution in his only start that season against Blackburn, providing the assist for a John Terry header. 

The following season saw him secure a season-long loan to West Bromwich Albion, where he would score his first Premier League goal, on his debut, in a 3-0 win over Liverpool. Over 38 appearances in all domestic competitions, Lukaku would score an impressive 17 goals, including a final game-week perfect hat-trick against League champions Manchester United, helping West Brom to an 8th place finish. 

On his return to Chelsea, re-newly appointed manager Jose Mourinho would include Lukaku in his pre-season squad, however decided he was surplus to requirements, leading to Everton securing a deadline day season-long loan for the Belgian’s services.It was at Everton where Lukaku would make a name for himself, at least domestically, where he would score 87 goals over 166 appearances, including 8 goals in 9 games during Everton’s 14/15 Europa League campaign, after transferring to the Merseyside club permanently over the 14/15 transfer window. This would also however, be the time that would shape and define the opinion that Lukaku “struggles to score against the big teams”. Most notably after Everton’s 15/16 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester United, in which he missed a number of big chances and failed to convert a penalty, despite veteran penalty taker Leighton Baines being on the pitch. 

Transfer rumours had been abundant during Lukaku’s final two seasons at Everton, and in the summer of 2017/18, he would make the switch to Manchester United for a fee of 90 million GBP plus Wayne Rooney going the opposite direction, returning to his boyhood club. Whilst failing to win any domestic or European honours during his time at United, he would help United to a second place finish in his debut season, only bettered by city rivals Manchester City. United manager Jose Mourinho would go on to claim that United’s second place finish this season was “one of [his] biggest achievements.” 

During his United career, Lukaku would score 42 goals in 96 appearances, and this was enough to attract the attention of Antonio Conte and Inter Milan. Lukaku would sign with Inter Milan during the 2019/20 transfer window, where he has so far scored 56 goals in 80 appearances, including an appearance and goal in the 19/20 Europa League final against Sevilla. Once again however, domestic and European honours elude Lukaku, with Sevilla beating Inter Milan 3-2, and Inter Milan being eliminated from the Coppa Italia at the Semi-final stage, last year to eventual winners Napoli, and this year to Juventus, with Lukaku failing to score in either legs of both years.

What Do The Numbers Say?

Romelu Lukaku’s reputation for failing in the big games has started to eclipse the man’s propensity as one of Europe’s greatest goal scorers, but is there any truth to it? And if so, how does he stack up against the greatest goalscorer’s of the previous generation? Is it common for “big game” players to struggle against the “big” teams, or do these players become players by doing the business when it matters most? 

To get to the bottom of this, I have pulled together the stats of some of Europe’s greatest goalscorer’s, up to the point of their 300th senior goal, the number of appearances they made against their respective league’s “Big” teams, and how often they scored against these teams. The data has been compiled below:


AgeTotal AppsApps in “Big” GamesGoals Scored in “Big” Games%
C. Ronaldo27y 3m522793645.6
Messi25y 4m422846577.4
Zlatan32y 4m671843744
Aguero28y 7m580945356.4
Rooney29y 10m6691164337.1
Drogba37y 7m7391044442.3
Shearer29y 6m536693652.2
Henry30y 1m627823137.8
Lukaku27y 9m5821132925.7

Two things immediately stand out, the age at which he’s reached his 300th goal, and the percentage of games in which he actually scores. Reaching such a milestone as early as he has leads us to believe he should exist in the Messi/Ronaldo bracket, but looking his goals against appearances paints a different picture. Lionel Messi was (and still is) clearly in a world of his own, scoring in 77.4% of the “Big” games he’d played in up to his 300th senior goal, a feat no one else comes near to. The man who comes closest is Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, who scored in 56.4% of big games he played in, during his time at Independiente, Athletico and Manchester City. Romelu Lukaku sits well below Aguero, scoring in just 25.7% of big games he has so far played in. It could be argued that having spent half his career at West Brom and Everton, two teams that, at least in recent memory, haven’t been known for challenging the Big 6 in England, his goal threat was somewhat diminished, but I would disagree. Take Alan Shearer for example, a man who spent the entirety of his career playing for teams outside of the “Top 4”, still managed to score in 52.2% of games against such teams. (I do realise he won the league with Blackburn in 94/95, before anyone complains). What did surprise me was how rarely Thierry Henry scored in big games, considering he’s often featured in lists of the Premier League’s greatest goalscorers, scoring in only 37.8% of appearances against the Top 4.

For further comparison, I compiled all the data of each player’s appearances and goals in European competition, since I would consider every European game, Champions League and Europa League, to be classed as a “Big” game. Once again, up until each player’s 300th senior career goal:


European AppearancesEuropean Goals%
C. Ronaldo884045.5
Messi785874.4
Zlatan1084238.9
Aguero794354.4
Rooney903943.3
Drogba1025049
Shearer20630
Henry1105045.5
Lukaku663756.1

What I find remarkable looking at this data, is how each player’s likelihood of scoring in European games compared with their likelihood of scoring in their respective league’s big games is pretty similar, except for Lukaku’s. Cristiano Ronaldo, at this point in his career, had an almost identical record, percentage-wise, of scoring in European competition and in big domestic games, whereas Lukaku’s chances of scoring more than doubles when playing in European competition. He’s so lethal in European games, that up to this point in their careers, only Lionel Messi has a better record than him.

So What Does It All Mean?

Like all topics in football, everything comes down to personal opinion. I can throw all the stats and data in the world at you, humble reader, but at the end of the day people will believe what they want to believe. The data shows that on a domestic level, Romelu Lukaku does indeed, tend to score less than the all time greats in big games. In European competition however, the Champions League arguably being the peak of performance in world football, the data shows that Lukaku could potentially be the greatest of all time (behind the freak that is Lionel Messi), should he continue to consistently perform. He could even get better, much like Cristiano Ronaldo did in the later years of his career. 

The fact that Lukaku has reached 300 goals at the age of 27, is an incredibly impressive feat, regardless of who those goals have come against. It is unfortunate that none of those goals have ever brought him silverware, something which could be used as an argument against him. But with at least another 5 to 6 years of his peak to come, and rumours of a transfer to Manchester City this summer, I for one, am certain he’ll go down as one of the greatest goalscorers of his generation and be lifting a trophy at some point in the near future.

At the time of this publication (21/02/21), he will be playing in the Milan derby in a couple of hours, and according to the data there’s a 25% chance he will score. Given that he failed to score most recently against Juventus in the Coppa Italia, and that Lukaku often enjoys proving his critics wrong, I’d be willing to put money on him bagging a hat-trick and making all of this research and effort totally worthless.

Idrissa Gana Gueye – Replacing The Irreplaceable

The Little Engine That Could

The summer of 2016 was an optimistic one for the Goodison faithful. Roberto Martinez’s reign as Everton manager had ended with a whimper that May, much to the delight of the fans, and in came European Cup winner and ex-Barca ‘Dream Team’ member Ronald Koeman, freshly poached from Southampton. Alongside Koeman came Steve Walsh, chief scout for Leicester during their famous Premier League winning season, responsible for unearthing the talents of Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante. Together with the recent takeover of Iranian billionaire Farhad Moshiri, it felt as though Everton could finally take on, or at least match, the financial powerhouses of the Top 6. 

And whilst the partnership of Koeman & Walsh wouldn’t live up to the hype expected (which will be saved for another article, because that’s a whole other can of worms), that summer proved to be a successful one of recruitment. Maarten Stekelenberg arrived from Fulham to replace the recently transferred Tim Howard, Yannick Bolasie made the switch to Royal Blue from Crystal Palace and, pre-ACL injury, had actually formed an effective and dangerous partnership on the wing supplying Romelu Lukaku, and future line leader Dominic Calvert-Lewin transferred from Sheffield United and saw a decent number of minutes coming off the bench and playing as a right-winger. 

The most successful transfer of that summer however was that of Idrissa Gana Gueye. Signed from Aston Villa on August 2nd for £7.1million, eyebrows were initially raised. Questions of his quality had been asked since Aston Villa had been relegated the previous season, however, looking at his stats, Gueye proved to be an astute defensive midfielder in-spite of his teams performances. Gueye recorded the second most tackles that season with 144, coming only second to the world’s current best CDM N’Golo Kante, and was head and shoulders above the rest, the next closest being Lucas Leiva with 108. That season he averaged 4 interceptions per game, 0.1 fewer than Kante, showing a high level of positional awareness, and was dribbled past on average 0.9 times per game, less than Kante (1.6 times per game), Fernandinho (1.8 times per game) and Leiva (1.4 times per game). Relegated or not, it was clear that Gueye was a player more than capable of playing in the Premier League and had possibly flown under the radar of the Premier League’s bigger teams given Villa’s performances.

The Pivotal Pivot

Since his signing that summer, Gueye has been absolutely pivotal in Everton’s central midfield, being favoured by each Everton manager over the last 3 years, and has very rarely been dropped, playing in 33 games in each of his three seasons here. Whilst not usually contributing much in the way of goals or assists, his involvement in build up play can not be understated. With a successful pass completion rate of 85.1% over the last 3 seasons, and an average of 52.5 passes per game over the same time period, Gueye is more than just a destroyer and disrupter of play, and actively looks to contribute during transitional and build up play. His assist for Dominic Calvert-Lewin against Cardiff in Feb 2019 is a good example of his ability to both beat a man and find a successful pass, this one ultimately threading Calvert-Lewin through and leading to his goal.

For an idea of how good Gueye has been for us, see the below comparison between him, N’Golo Kante and Wilfried N’Didi over the last three years, two players of a similar nature who play in the same role.


Idrissa Gueye N’Golo Kante Wilfred Ndidi
Age 29 28 22
Appearances 99 105 88
Tackles Per 90 mins 3.97 3 4
Interceptions Per 90 2.2 2.03 1.93
Blocked Shots Per 90 0.27 0.13 0.27
Dribbled Past Per 90 1.4 1.4 1.76
Clearances Per 90 1.27 0.9 2.73
Passes Per 90 52.5 60 47.9
Pass Success Rate 85.1% 88.67% 77.3%

*All data taken from WhoScored.com 

What can be taken from the data above, is how closely Gueye and Kante can be compared, despite the latter earning plaudits for his title winning season at Leicester and being purchased by Chelsea, there’s really not much separating the two. It should be noted however that last season under Maurizio Sarri, Kante played in more of an attacking midfield role, as opposed to his usual CDM position, possibly contributing to his lower ‘Blocked Shots’ and ‘Clearances’ statistics. Ndidi, whilst having a much lower pass success rate and looking to be more easily dribbled past, is only 22 years old, and will have plenty of time to mature and learn.

In an Everton team that ranked 15th out of 20 overall last season for goals scored, Gueye’s defensive contributions can’t be overlooked. Whilst the centre back pairing of Michael Keane and Kurt Zouma was somewhat of a wall last season, without the destructive play of Gueye sitting in front of them, it’s arguable that our goals conceded would have far outweighed our goals scored. Everton conceded 14.2 shots per game last season, the sixth highest in the league, and without Gueye, that could have been considerably higher. 

It is worth noting that in the 5 matches that Gueye did not feature in last season, Everton only picked up 4 points, a win and a draw both against the Huddersfield, conceding 13 goals and only keeping one clean sheet in the away fixture against Huddersfield. In the 33 games featuring Gueye, Everton conceded 33 goals, 1 per game, however without the CDM, this more than doubled to 2.6 goals per game. To put it simply, Everton concede far fewer goals when Idrissa Gana Gueye plays, and that can’t be stressed enough.

PSG Interest

It came as no surprise then, after two and a half impressive seasons at Everton, that a top team would eventually come sniffing around the central midfielder. That team would eventually be PSG, who registered their interest with a £25million bid, in January of 2019. The bid was ultimately rejected, with the board declaring that Gueye was absolutely not for sale and was key to Marco Silva’s plans for the immediate future. Even after Gueye submitted a transfer request to the club, Everton stood firm and remained adamant that the player was not for sale, thus securing Gueye until at least the end of the season. 

In a situation which could be compared to that of Ademola Lookman’s, after his transfer request was denied, it was almost expected that Gueye’s performances would drop off. That however has not been the case, with the past six months showing Gueye to be a true professional, and if anything, his performances have elevated during this time. A fine end to the season, as well as helping Senegal to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, scoring the winning goal in the quarter-finals against Benin, has made his inevitable departure this summer, whilst still guttering, much less bitter than that of Lookman’s. It’s understandable that at the age of 29, as Gueye comes into the back end of his career at his prime, he wants to play in the Champions League and win trophies at a domestic level. With Everton still being a work in progress, now under the stewardship of Marco Silva and Marcel Brands, it’s feasible that Gueye won’t get that opportunity during his career if he were to stay here.

PSG renewed their interest in Gueye this summer and at the time of writing this piece, have tabled a £28million bid, which has reportedly been accepted, however Everton are currently attempting to find a replacement for Gueye before the transfer is completed. So, with that in mind, let’s have a look at some potential replacements that we’ve been linked to, and that I have picked out.

Filling The Void

I’ve compiled the below statistics of a few players from last season that I think would be worth considering for Gueye’s replacement. Obviously, Gueye has established himself as an elite CDM, so comparatively speaking a number of the players won’t be clocking the same numbers. However, understanding Brands’ policy of signing younger players with an intent to develop them into future top-level talents, I’ve taken age and potential as a main factor:


Jean Philippe Gbamin Wilfred Ndidi  Lucas Tousart Yves Bissouma
Idrissa Gana Gueye
Age 23 22 22 22
29
Club Mainz 05 Leicester City Lyon Brighton
Everton
Appearances 30 (1) 37 (1) 20 (10) 17 (11)
32 (1)
TransferMarkt Valuation £25million £31million £18million £13.5million
£22.5million
Tackles Per 90 mins 1.6 3.8 2.5 2.2
4.3
Interceptions Per 90 1 2.2 0.9 1.2
2.2
Blocked Shots Per 90 0.2 0.2 0.4 0.2
0.2
Dribbled Past Per 90 0.9 1.3 1.1 0.6
1.2
Clearances Per 90 0.9 2.1 0.7 0.9
1.3
Passes Per 90 43 52.2 32.6 25.5
52.8
Pass Success Rate 80.4% 79.9% 87.3% 81.8%
84.3%

*All stats taken from WhoScored.com 

Jean Philippe Gbamin

Seemingly Everton’s number one priority as Gueye’s replacement, having been heavily linked over the last two to three weeks, the Mainz defensive midfielder would be a direct like-for-like replacement. A quick YouTube search shows an astute and solid CDM, always looking to disrupt opposition play, using his impressive strength and speed when needed. Gbamin looks comfortable on the ball too, always turning when receiving the ball and looking to play it forward. However, as of the comparisons above, he may not necessarily be the best option available, being outperformed in all areas, and as the second most expensive player above, is he worth the money he’s valued at? I, obviously, am not a professional scout, so if Gbamin is the player that Brands and Silva are willing to put their trust into, then so am I.

Wilfred Ndidi

I won’t go into too much detail since we’ve already analysed Ndidi against Kante and Gueye in this article, however it should be noted that he is the most like-for-like replacement on the market today. Justifiably the most expensive player in the above comparison, Wilfred Ndidi has bags of Premier League experience at the young age of 22, establishing him as Leicester’s starting CDM over the last three seasons. The acquisition of Ndidi’s services would not only benefit Everton for future seasons to come, but his potential development could see him becoming one of Europe’s, if not the world’s, best defensive midfielders, leading to a sizeable re-sale profit should the likes of Barcelona or Juventus eventually become interested. The question is however, would Leicester sell one of their better players to a team in a relatively similar position to them; looking to break into the top 6? It’s unlikely, and if they were, it’s fair to assume they’d be looking for much more than £31million.

Lucas Tousart

The France U21 international is another player Everton have been linked with since the news broke Gueye’s impending transfer to PSG. Another young talent who has established himself as a regular starter in an impressively talented Lyon side, notorious for spotting and developing younger players before selling them on for good profits, Michael Essien, Miralem Pjanič and Karim Benzema to name a few. The stats above show the player to be defensively astute, blocking the most shots per game out of the the four comparisons whilst also being dribbled pass less than our own Idrissa Gana Gueye. During build up play, Tousart looks to have a keen eye for a pass, also having the highest pass success percentage, again, bettering Gueye, a skill which is a huge factor to be considered given Marco Silva’s patient, building-from-the-back style of possession-based football. Tifo Football reported in their 2018 video “Everton Under Marco Silva | Tactics Explained” that Silva’s favoured formation would be a 4-3-3, however he spent the majority of last season employing a 4-2-3-1, possibly due to “not having the confidence in his current central midfielders to play as a deep lying, play making defensive midfielder”. Lucas Tousart might just be the answer to that problem, and at the price of £18million, would be a smart and sensible purchase.

Yves Bissouma

Not a traditional CDM, is Yves Bissouma, however I thought him still worthy of mention as a potential replacement. Signed by Brighton on July 17th, 2018, Bissouma was a ray of hope in an otherwise dreary season for the Seagulls. Drawing comparisons to Paul Pogba due to his strength, speed, and style of play, Bissouma operates more as a box-to-box midfielder, and has himself admitted that he needs to improve on the defensive aspect of his game. However, having already had a year in the Premier League, his statistics show a player of considerable talent already, even at the age of 22. He made an impressive 2.2 tackles per game, made the second most interceptions per game out of the above comparisons, and was only dribbled past 0.6 times per 90minutes on average, bearing in mind Brighton spent the majority of their games last season without the ball. This could be considered as a potential contributing factor to his low number of Passes per 90minutes. Whilst he may not a traditional CDM, Bissouma is a talented young midfielder who could potentially play anywhere across the middle of the park, and with the correct development, could go on to be one of the better players in the Premier League over the next few years, if the hype is to be believed. He also comes with the best song in English football, the Champs 1958 song “Tequila”, only with his surname replacing the titular word, that’s enough for me to want him in the Royal Blue.

Final Thoughts

It’s inevitable now that Idrissa Gana Gueye will leave Everton, he’s recently been spotted arriving at Paris Airport, presumably to complete his medical at PSG, which means it is absolutely imperative that Everton find a replacement for him as soon as possible. Whoever it is that comes in to fill that void, whether it be one of the above mentioned players, or someone else, they’re going to have very big shoes to fill, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they aren’t an immediate success. However, I have faith in Brands and our Marco, and I’m confident that they’ll make the correct decision, I just hope the rest of Goodison is as well.

During the ups and downs of the last three seasons (and let’s be honest, there’s been more downs than ups), Gueye has been one of the most consistent, hard working and professional players we’ve had, and has genuinely got us out of trouble through a number of his performances. When his transfer request was denied in January he didn’t let his performance levels dip, he maintained and improved during the back end of the season, further earning his big money move to PSG. It’s hard to see him go, and he’ll be harder to replace, but he deserves to play for a club at the highest level, and I’ll never be bitter about that.

Ciao Idrissa, ciao.

Much Ade About Nothing: The Ademola Lookman Conundrum

Immediate Impact

It’s January 15th, 2017, and John Stones has unsuccessfully attempted to clear the ball from his box. The ball ricochets off of Seamus Coleman, falling to the feet a young Everton debutant, 4 minutes into extra time, before being rifled between Claudio Bravo’s legs and into the bottom left of the Manchester City net. Ademola Lookman, four minutes into his Everton debut has made the score 4-0, and a collective thought of “We might have a player, here” ripples through the Goodison Park faithful.

Signed on January 5th, 2017 from Charlton Athletic for a reported fee of £7.5million, Lookman was a prospect highly tipped as one to watch for the future. After scoring 5 goals in 24 appearances for Charlton in the 15/16 season, the 19 year old brought a considerable amount of buzz with him to the Merseyside team. The handful of clips available on YouTube showed a quick, tricky young player capable of beating a man and possessing an eye for goal, and his first appearance for the Blues, whilst brief, certainly affirmed that.

Post-debut goal, Lookman made a further two appearances for Everton off the bench, before earning his first start against Bournemouth on February 4th. He would make another 2 starts, and another two off the bench appearances  later that season. Whilst Lookman would not have a hand in another goal during the seven appearances post-City, it was clear from his performances that he was more than capable of providing a spark during build up play, and his pace offered threat during transitional and counter-attacking play. 

That summer brought in a flurry of new players, and a sense of optimism for the 17/18 season. European football had been secured in the form of the Europa League qualifying stages, and our once golden boy Wayne Rooney had re-signed after 13 years at Manchester United, albeit, as part of the deal seeing the departure of Romelu Lukaku. Things were looking promising under Ronald Koeman, and after a successful run to the Europa League Group Stages, the morale in the Blue half of Merseyside was high.

However, anyone who understands Everton knows that we aren’t allowed to enjoy any form of happiness. Following a disastrous Europa League campaign which saw us get mauled by Atlanta 5-1 at home, Ronald Koeman was dismissed and replaced by (Big) Sam Allardyce. Summer marquee signing Gylfi Sigurdsson, originally signed to play as a playmaking number 10, was forced out to the left wing, limiting Lookman’s opportunities for appearances. Barring two goals in a MotM performance against Cypriot side Apollon Limassol, in a team made up of mostly U21 players and managed by Craig Shakespear, Lookman would only make 7 substitute appearances in the Premier League, score no goals and contribute zero assists in the run up to Christmas. In January, despite Sam Allardyce stating Lookman would not be loaned out, he was loaned to RB Leipzig for the remaining six months of the 17/18 season. This is where our conundrum with Ademola Lookman really begins.

The Bundesliga Appeal & The Sancho Effect

Within the last few years, as I’m sure many of you are aware, a trend has developed whereby young, promising English players are shunning the normally tried and tested path of a Championship or League One loan, and are instead moving abroad to the continental fields of the Bundesliga, with the vast majority of these players experiencing first team minutes. To name a few are Reiss Nelson (Arsenal to Hoffenheim on loan in 2018), Reece Oxford (West Ham to Borussia M’Gladbach on loan in 2017) and most notably Jadon Sancho (Manchester City to Borussia Dortmund permanently in 2017). Even for the upcoming season, our own Jonjoe Kenny has elected for a loan move to Schalke to secure more first team minutes and experience.

If you ask the average fan who was the figurehead of this youth exodus, chances are their answer would be Jadon Sancho and his self-forced move to Dortmund from Pep’s Manchester City. And while he has been no doubt the most exciting and hyped youth talent to leave the Premier League, I believe Serge Gnabry’s transfer from Arsenal to Werder Bremen in 2016 was the true catalyst for the movement of players we are seeing today. After four years at Arsenal where he failed to break through the ranks into the first team, and a very brief loan spell at West Brom, having been sent back to Arsenal after Tony Pulis told the Express “[he]…just hasn’t been for me, at the level to play the games”, the winger requested a transfer, securing a £5million move to Werder Bremen on August 31st. In his only season at Bremen, Gnabry scored 11 goals in 27 appearances and was snapped up by Bayern Munich the following transfer window. After two loan spells at Hoffenheim, where he again impressed, he asserted himself during the 18/19 season as the successor to the now retired Arjen Robben, becoming a key figure of the Bayern squad and ending the season as Bayern’s second top goalscorer.

Whilst the Bundesliga is seen as the third-best league in Europe’s Big 5, it’s style of play and depth of team strength is arguably better than that of the Championship, and the experience it provides to these young loanees, that of first team football in one of Europe’s first tier leagues, is invaluable. So when it was announced that Lookman would move to RB Leipzig on loan, under the guise of Ralph Hassenhüttl, it was welcome news knowing one of our talents was not being sent down to a lower league team to sit on the bench, but would instead be nurtured and groomed into a potential player of the future, in a league where he was more than capable of getting game time. 

Lookman immediately announced his presence in his debut for Leipzig, coming on as a substitute against Borussia M’Gladbach in the 78th minute, scoring in the 89th minute and sealing a 1-0 win. He would make eleven appearances that season, seven of those starting, and would score five goals, and assisting a further four. All of the qualities that had been seen in Lookman during the number of Everton appearances he’d made in the previous 12 months were there and more. Playing alongside an accomplished finisher in Timo Werner (another talent to watch for the future), Lookman became an assured and adept finisher in the box. His Shots Per Game for Leipzig tripled to 1.2 shots, compared to 0.4 in his previous six months at Everton, his Average Passes Per Game more than tripled from 6.4 to 19.8 passes, and his Key Passes Per Game (defined by Opta as “the final pass or pass-cum-shot leading to the recipient of the ball shooting, regardless of the outcome of the shot) massively increased from 0.3 to 1.5 during his 6 months at the German outfit. 

Obviously benefitting from more game time at Leipzig, and from a progressive, attack-minded coach like Hassenhüttl (see Southampton post-Mark Hughes and the progression of James Ward-Prowse), compared to Allardyce’s archaic, hoof-ball style of play, Lookman was one of the brightest young talents at the end of the 17/18 season, whilst semi-living in the shadow of, fellow compatriot Jadon Sancho. For a comparison between the two, and future would be star Serge Gnabry during his season at Hoffenheim, let’s look at the below stats (Bundesliga only):


Ademola Lookman (RB Leipzig) Jadon Sancho (B’Dortmund) Serge Gnabry (Hoffenheim)
Age (At Time) 20 17 21
Appearances (Off Bench) 7 (4) 7 (5) 20 (2)
Minutes Played 576 684 1507
Goals 5 1 10
Assists 4 4 5
Minutes Per Contribution 64 137 100
Avg Key Passes Per Match 1.5 1.6 1.2
Avg Shots Per Match 1.2 0.8 2.2
Avg Passes Per Match 19.8 29.8 22
Avg Pass Percentage 76.6% 84% 77.4%
Avg Succesful Dribbles Per Match 1.1 1.4 2

The above data gives us some interesting take-aways, and given the standings of the Bundesliga( see below) the comparatives to be made between the three can be considered as accurate as could possibly be.

Position Team Points Won Goals Scored
3 Hoffenheim 55 15 48
4 B’ Dortmund 55 15 47
6 RB Leipzig 53 15 57

*All data taken from WhoScored.com and TransferMarkt.co.uk.

Without wanting to get too analytical (because after all, football is just 22 men kicking a ball around a field), there are three immediate take-aways from the above data:

  • Lookman was far more efficient in terms of contributions per game than both Sancho and Gnabry, despite the latter contributing more Shots Per Game than the other two wingers. Given that all three players played the majority of the season as left wingers in teams that favoured attacking play, it’s fair to say they all played in similar roles and systems. RB Leipzig were the third most prolific team in front of goal during the 17/18 season, and it appeared that Lookman was both taking advantage, and helping contribute to that stat. He was more than doubly efficient than Sancho, however this can potentially be attributed to their age difference and his experience, albeit limited, in the Premier League.
  • Whilst not as prolific in front of goal, Sancho registered the same number of assists as Lookman, who both achieved just one fewer than Gnabry in half the number of games played. Sancho also looked to be more involved during build up play (under the recently appointed Peter Stöger, brought in to stabilise an ailing Dortmund side with slower, more concentrated play) completing a higher number of passes than Lookman and Gnabry.  
  • Serge Gnabry’s higher number of goals, assists and shots per game, without wanting to sound dismissive or demeaning, can potentially be put down to his age and his past experience of the Bundesliga.

Jadon Sancho was rightfully regarded as the next best thing, and the poster child for the future of English football, at the end of the 17/18 season. However, from all the stats of those last six months, it appears that Ademola Lookman could do everything and more that Sancho could, yet remained suitably under the radar, just off the beaten track enough to not attract the attention of larger clubs. And with that, he returned to Everton with great expectations from the fans and staff alike. 

Return to Everton 

That summer saw the dismissal of Large Samuel and his backroom staff, and the arrival of Marco Silva, highly regarded for the attractive brand of football he implemented in his six month tenure at Hull, and the eight months in charge of Watford. Together with Director of Football Marcel Brands, a self-imposed rule that the majority of the Everton squad would be under-25 was put into place, with a few older, more experienced players in the squad for guidance and leadership of the younger players, perfect for the soon-to-be 21 year old Lookman. Silva’s attacking, free-flowing football philosophy and penchant for younger players should have been the perfect match for a player who excelled so much in a Leipzig team of a similar nature. 

The pre-season of this 18/19 started in July with a 22-0 drubbing of Austrian team ATV Irdning, a game in which Lookman scored a hat-trick and all seemed well. However, with the arrivals of wingers Richarlison from Watford, a club record signing, and fellow Brazilian Bernard from Shakhtar Donetsk, also a left winger, it was apparent that Silva still wanted Lookman to fight for his place in the squad. Matters were strained when RB Leipzig publicly declared their interest in wanting to sign Lookman permanently, before submitting a number of bids, the fourth and final being around the sum of £25million. Everton were steadfast in their reluctance to sell Lookman, even after the player attempted to force a move himself.

It is at this point where the relationship between Everton and Ademola Lookman began to breakdown. Marco Silva rightfully desired to keep the player and integrate him into the first team squad, encouraging Lookman in a press conference on August 10th, 2018 “to fight for his position. I am here to do everything I can to make him happy again.” He would state that Lookman was the “present and the future of Everton FC” and was prepared for the player to earn his place. 

Unfortunately, the season proved not to be the break-out season that we had all expected and hoped for. The experienced Bernard, brought in to push Lookman on and develop more, started 25 of the games that season, and came off the bench for a further 9 appearances. Although he started the season relatively weak and ineffective, Bernard would cement his starting place over Lookman toward the back end of the season, consecutively starting the last 10 games in the Premier League. Richarlison ended the season as one of our more outstanding players, contributing 14 goals and assists in 35 games, from all positions along the front three, Lookman never posed a threat in displacing him from the starting eleven.

That’s not to say Lookman didn’t get his chance, however. He would miss the first 3 games through injury, making his his first appearance as a substitute at home against Huddersfield on September 1st, 2018. He would play 11 of the first 17 matches that season, but didn’t make his first starting eleven of the season until a lacklustre 1-1 draw in the home game against Newcastle on December 5th. He would play the next two games as a substitute, before an ankle injury ruled him out over the Christmas period. His only contribution during the first half of the season would be an assist against Crystal Palace in a 2-0 win.

Upon his return, Lookman would start against Bournemouth on January 13th, providing an assist in a 2-0 win and playing the full 90 minutes. This performance would be rewarded with a second start and another full 90 minutes the following week against Southampton in a 2-1 loss. The assist against Bournemouth would be his last of that season, and his start against Southampton would be his last start of the season. He would make a further 8 appearances that season from the bench. In total, Ademola Lookman played a total of 21 games, 3 of those starting, and registered 2 assists and 0 goals all season. From all the promise and progress witnessed during his six month stint at Leipzig, it was a very disappointing season all round.

He did come out publicly in October and say the transfer speculation from RB Leipzig during the summer had unsettled him, and that it took England U21 boss Aidy Boothroyd to sit him down and regain his focus for the season, as reported by the Liverpool Echo. However, despite this, it would still seem apparent from the on-pitch performances during the back end of the season that his spot at Everton was no longer worth fighting for. In a press conference from March 2019, Marco Silva stated that Lookman’s absence from the starting eleven was down to Lookman’s inconsistency in training, stating that “We know what his quality is and you know I believe in his quality since the first day I saw him so it has to be same Lookman everyday, with the same desire everyday. He needs to understand what the coach wants coming from him, and any winger in our model. He is a young football player but, being honest with you, I expect Ademola to be on a different level already this season.”

To say Marco Silva’s frustrations were shared by the fans, or at least myself, would be an understatement 

The below stats compare Ademola Lookman, Richarlison and Bernard at the end of the 18/19 season:


Ademola Lookman Richarlison Bernard
Age (At Time) 21 22 26
Appearances (Off Bench) 3 (18) 32 (3) 25 (9)
Minutes Played 602 2679 2129
Goals 0 13 1
Assists 2 1 3
Minutes Per Contribution 301 191 532
Avg Key Passes Per Match 0.5 0.6 1.2
Avg Shots Per Match 0.6 2.4 0.7
Avg Passes Per Match 12 22.7 23.7
Avg Pass Percentage 84.6% 68.5% 75.3%
Avg Succesful Dribbles Per Match 1.1 1.3 1.2

*All data taken from WhoScored.com and TransferMarkt.co.uk.

Given his considerably lower game time in comparison to Richarlison and Bernard, I wouldn’t expect his statistics to be anywhere near comparable in terms of goals or assists. However, compared to his time at Leipzig, the above is a drastic drop off, even when factoring in the standard of play between the two leagues. Bernard can be somewhat forgiven for his high Minutes per Contribution, given he came from the Russian league and had to adapt to the Premier League’s style of play, and Richarlison’s low Pass Completion Percentage can possibly be attributed to him playing a third of the season as a lone striker. Furthermore, it’s no secret that Everton have lacked an out an out striker since the departure of Romelu Lukaku in 2017, as badly as we all want Calvert-Lewin to fill that role, so both Lookman’s and Richarlison’s Key Pass stats can be potentially waived here as well.

Sanchoooooo

And what of Jadon Sancho during the last season? To say he’s been one of this season’s best European players is an understatement. He’s been pivotal in a Dortmund team that ran Bayern Munich to the very end of the season before finishing second, one point short of the title. providing 12 goals and 14 assists. He earned his first England call up, his debut being against Croatia in the Nations League on October 12th, making another 5 appearances since and provided 2 assists during those games. Over the last year, Jadon Sancho has become one of the most exciting footballing talents, not just for English football, but for world football as a whole, and if he doesn’t end up at the Nou Camp or as a Galactico within the next 4 years then I’ll be very surprised. 

In order to truly appreciate how good Sancho has been over the last 12 months, check out his stats below compared to the 2018 Balon D’or Top 3 (and Messi):


Jadon Sancho Luka Modrič Cristiano Ronaldo Antoine Griezmann
Lionel Messi
Age (At Time) 18 33 33 27
31
Appearances (Off Bench) 26 (8) 31 (3) 30 (1) 37
29 (5)
Minutes Played 2464 2618 2689 3204
2710
Goals 12 3 21 15
36
Assists 14 6 8 9
13
Minutes Per Contribution 94 290 92 133
55
Avg Key Passes Per Match 1.9 1.6 1.2 2
2.7
Avg Shots Per Match 1.2 1.1 5.7 3.1
5
Avg Passes Per Match 38.3 55.6 33.3 37.5
53.8
Avg Pass Percentage 84.9% 88.9% 85.1% 78.3%
81.3%
Avg Succesful Dribbles Per Match 3.3 1.6 1.5 0.5
3.9

*All data taken from WhoScored.com

I’ve separated Little Alien Boy from the rest to level the playing field a little.

What we can take away from the above, is that even at the young age of 18, Jadon Sancho is recording stats which we would expect so see from the best in the world, and in some cases actually outperforming them. If we look at his goals scored, whilst only scoring half as many as Cristiano Ronaldo, CR7 is averaging 5.7 shots per game, whereas Sancho is only averaging 1.2 per game, the lowest of all the forwards in the above comparison, yet it’s his efficiency in front of goal which is truly impressive. Furthermore, in a world where Antoine Griezmann is worth 120million Euros, what price tag could be placed on Sancho when it could be argued he outperforms Griezmann in nearly all aspects of his game from the left wing?

Seeing how far Sancho has developed in the last 12 months adds another layer of disappointment to the Lookman situation, when arguably, Lookman was the better player at the end of the previous season. Had Lookman stayed at Leipzig for another season, would we have seen a season as impressive as Sancho’s at Dortmund this season? Would this have secured his first team position at Everton upon his return for the season coming, potentially avoiding the attitude issues and inconsistent performances which have blighted the last 12 months?

There’s No Time Like The Present

Which brings us to today’s dilema. At the time of writing this article (blog post?) RB Leipzig have renewed their interest in Ademola Lookman, submitting a bid of around £22million, and whilst Marco Silva and the club have once again rejected the bid and stated he is not for sale, I feel this will be the last we see of our potential star of the future.

The club in a sort of catch-22 situation here, do they keep hold of an incredibly talented young player, with the potential to be one of the most exciting players in the post-Messi and Ronaldo world, but has no desire to play for us and will therefor probably not reach that potential? Or do they sell him to the club where he enjoyed his football most, where he showed just how good he can be, and where he’ll undoubtedly mature and develop into the talent he’s destined to be? In doing so, earning back triple what the club payed for him, but potentially missing out on a huge payday should the likes of Barcelona or Real Madrid eventually come calling one day?

In my personal opinion, I think it’s time the club cut their losses and sold. I don’t believe we’ll ever truly experience his full potential if his desire to play is with another team. And I don’t say that with any bitterness, at the end of the day he’s not a local lad and after being mis-managed by Koeman and marginalised by Allardyce, it’s understandable that he doesn’t see his future here. All that I would like to see if Everton do sell, is a sell on clause of at least 20% added into the deal should, Leipzig actually buy, allowing Everton to reap some form of reward should he become the talent I believe he’ll be. It’s a shame that one of our brightest prospects since John Stones has been allowed to drift away from the club, but if he wants out then so be it, £30million-ish for a 21 year old is probably as much as we’ll get and should be snapped at.

So long as we don’t sell him to fucking Southampton.

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