Atalanta’s hat-trick hero Ademola Lookman pleased with his progress in Italy

Atalanta’s hat-trick hero Ademola Lookman pleased with his progress in Italy

Ademola Lookman reflected on his Europa League final heroics by insisting he always imagined starring on such a stage when starting his career at Charlton.

Lookman became the first player to score a final hat-trick in the competition as Atalanta beat Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 to inflict a first defeat of the season on the Bundesliga champions.

It has been a difficult journey for the London-born forward who plays his international football for Nigeria.

Lookman struggled to shine at Everton and RB Leipzig after leaving Charlton and had loan spells at Fulham and Leicester before finding consistency in Italy under veteran Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini.

Asked if he ever imagined enjoying such a successful high-profile night, Lookman replied: “Probably yeah. I’ve always had the confidence in my ability to create and score goals, to help my team-mates and assist them.

“The past few years I’ve been able to take my game to a new level on a more consistent basis. Maybe it would have come earlier.

“But it’s come now and I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made. This is just the beginning and I hope for more nights like this and to get better and better. That’s the key.”

Atalanta v Bayer Leverkusen – UEFA Europa League Final – Aviva Stadium
Atalanta’s Ademola Lookman celebrates with the trophy after his match-winning hat-trick (Brian Lawless/PA)

Lookman has scored 30 goals in two seasons at Atalanta, but Gasparini admitted he has been surprised by the 26-year-old’s development in Bergamo.

He said: “We had a senior manager at Atalanta who had worked at Leicester and saw that we had the opportunity to bring him in.

“We thought he was a possible useful player for us, but no-one ever imagined that he could really make this much progress.

“He wasn’t overly-prolific in England but I changed his position a little bit and played him in a slightly more attacking role – and now he has achieved something that will remain in the annals of football history.”

Victory gave unfashionable Atalanta only the second trophy in their 116-year history, six decades on from lifting the Coppa Italia in 1963.

After masterminding Italy’s first win in the competition since 1999, Gasparini said: “It’s perhaps one of those footballing fairy tales that very rarely crop up.

“It does give scope for meritocracy and ideas. It shows that it doesn’t only come down to cold, hard numbers and super leagues.

“You can also show faith in other teams that don’t necessarily have huge budgets but can still achieve great things.”

Leverkusen were on the brink of an invincible season having won the first Bundesliga title in their history.

They had gone 51 games unbeaten and will finish their campaign by playing second-tier Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final on Saturday.

Atalanta v Bayer Leverkusen – UEFA Europa League Final – Aviva Stadium
Bayer Leverkusen manager Xabi Alonso appears dejected after his side’s 3-0 defeat to Atalanta (Brian Lawless/PA)

Boss Xabi Alonso said: “We had a bad night, it’s a shame, it really hurts in such an important match. They were really intense and better than us.

“It was not our attitude, it was a football thing. But it’s important how we deal with it because we have another big game on Saturday.

“This hurts for sure, but we must deal with this pain in a positive way.

“It’s quite exceptional what we have achieved and we have to be really proud. It’s painful right now, but it is deserved as well.”