Marco Silva received the plaudits on Sunday after his Everton side overcame a stodgy and unconvincing display to defeat Crystal Palace 2-0 at Goodison Park.
The Toffees had looked short of ideas before the Portuguese coach’s late substitution, but Dominic Calvert Lewin and Cenk Tosun both scored to claim all three points for the Merseysiders.
The Portuguese coach rightly deserves the praise, but ample credit must also go to his other substitute—Ademola Lookman—who was influential after being introduced and contributed the decisive assist for Calvert-Lewin’s opener.
Only five minutes after coming on as a replacement for Theo Walcott, Lookman was picked out by Richarlison, and sent in a deliciously weighted ball to the head of the leaping Calvert-Lewin.
The youngster made no mistake with an excellent header beyond Wayne Hennessey.
It took this moment of creative excellence to unlock the rugged Palace backline; a moment of excellence that Walcott, Bernard, Richarlison, Andre Gomes and Gylfi Sigurdsson had been unable to muster to that point.
Despite all that’s been written about the Anglo-Nigerian wonderkid, he’s made relatively little impact in the Premier League.
Indeed, the greatest evidence of the youngster’s talent has come in the Bundesliga, where he spent the second half of last season on loan at Red Bull Leipzig.
The forward was neglected by Sam Allardyce last term, with the former England manager apparently unwilling to employ him to lift the Toffees during their muddled campaign.
Silva had appeared to be going down a similar avenue this season, with Lookman making just two substitute appearances before Sunday, amidst uncertainty about his future.
Yet the evidence of his cameo against Palace suggests that he deserves the chance to add his sparkle, dynamism and guile in the final third to this Everton side sooner rather than later.
Lookman has already proved his class at youth level for England, and in Germany, and the next step for him is regular playing time in the Premier League.
After Sunday, there can be no more debate—he deserves it.
Ademola Lookman | 2018-19 Premier League stats
“You want to play, that’s my objective, and I hope to do that soon,” he told journalists following the conclusion of the transfer window. “What’s out of my hands is out of my hands.
“I wouldn’t call it frustration. It’s just opportunity, I haven’t had as much opportunity as I would have liked and I need to keep going forward and working hard.
“I can’t just stop, I’ve got to keep going.”
However, his performance should have piqued the interest of England coach Gareth Southgate, who’s demonstrated an eye-catching loyalty to youth during his tenure.
Mason Mount and James Maddison—of Derby County and Leicester City—were introduced to the Three Lions squad during their last international break, while Jadon Sancho—who, like Lookman, moved to the Bundesliga to seek gametime—made his debut against Croatia.
As things stand, Lookman appears to be next, and as a goalscoring wideman able to contribute directness and pace, he’ll be an ideal fit for this talented young England side.
That is, unless Nigeria get there first.
In September, reports emerged suggesting that the starlet had pledged his future to the Super Eagles, although Gernot Rohr’s apparent unwillingness to call him up for the last two international breaks throws doubt on the authenticity of such suggestions.
Considering how Nigeria pursued the likes of Alex Iwobi, Ola Aina and Tammy Abraham, it’s difficult to imagine that they wouldn’t have attempted to move for Lookman for the games against Seychelles and Libya had he given his green light.
It may yet prove to be an opportunity missed, particularly with Southgate aware of the Eagles threat.
“I know every country is quite aggressive in their recruiting and I know they have always had an interest in him, but he is playing and has been in our squads, the 20s, 21s,” Southgate told the Mirror.
“So in terms of encouragement through gametime, we are doing as much as we possibly can.”
After resisting the interest of Leipzig and seeing Lookman begin to make tangible impact in the Premier League, Everton are unlikely to underestimate this irresistible talent.
For Nigeria, it may be too late.