Lookman frontrunner for NFF Player of the Year after historic Europa League heroics

Lookman frontrunner for NFF Player of the Year after historic Europa League heroics

Ademola Lookman was the hero for Atalanta in the Europa League final against Bayer Leverkusen.

With the European season drawing to a close, the race for this coveted title is wide open, but Atalanta’s Ademola Lookman has emerged as the clear frontrunner following his sensational performance in the Europa League final.

The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) last held its award ceremony in 2021. However, the NFF has announced the coming of a virtual monthly award, but what if the leadership of the Sunday Dankaro House considers reviving the prestigious NFF Footballer of the Year award after a three-year absence? Who will win the Best Player award?

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The 26-year-old winger has been a revelation for Atalanta this season. While he consistently delivered impressive performances in Serie A, it was his dominant display on the biggest stage that truly announced him to the world. In a one-sided Europa League final against Bayer Leverkusen, Lookman single-handedly stole the show, bagging a sensational hat-trick.

His clinical finishing ended Leverkusen’s record-breaking unbeaten run and secured Atalanta’s first-ever European trophy. This feat etched Lookman’s name in history: he became the first African player to score a hat-trick in a Europa League final, and only the sixth player ever to achieve such a feat in a major UEFA competition final.

Ademola Lookman lifts the Europa League title after a historic display against Bayer Leverkusen.

Ademola Lookman lifts the Europa League title after a historic display against Bayer Leverkusen.

More Than Just a Final Flourish

Lookman’s impact goes beyond his heroics in the final. He has been a key figure for Gian Piero Gasperini’s side throughout the season, contributing a total of 15 goals and 8 assists across all competitions. His versatility and attacking threat have been crucial for Atalanta’s success in both Serie A and the Europa League.

Lookman’s impressive form extends to international duty. He was a key player for the Super Eagles at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), earning a place in the Team of the Tournament after scoring three goals, assisting two and helping Nigeria reach the final. This international success further strengthens his case for the NFF award.

Ademola Lookman lifting the Europa League title

Ademola Lookman lifting the Europa League title || Image credit: Imago

Boniface and Osimhen Remain in Contention

While Lookman appears to be the frontrunner, two other Nigerian attackers deserve a mention in the race. Victor Boniface, the 23-year-old forward for Bayer Leverkusen, enjoyed a phenomenal season in Germany. He was instrumental in helping Leverkusen win the Bundesliga title and contributed a remarkable 21 goals and 10 assists across all competitions.

However, Boniface’s dream of a treble was shattered by Lookman’s heroics in the Europa League final. While Leverkusen still have a chance to win the DFB Pokal final, Lookman’s individual impact and Europa League trophy outweigh Boniface’s achievements.

Victor Osimhen has netted 15 Serie A goals this season.

Victor Osimhen has netted 15 Serie A goals this season. (Imago/LaPresse)

The reigning CAF Footballer of the Year, Victor Osimhen, cannot be completely ruled out either. Although Napoli fell short of silverware this season, Osimhen maintained his reputation as a prolific goalscorer. With a respectable 17 goals and 3 assists in 30 Serie A appearances, he remains one of the most dangerous strikers in Africa.

However, Osimhen’s lack of trophies and his slightly lower overall impact compared to Lookman weakened his claim for the NFF award.

Johnson Blessing at the BayArena with Victor Boniface after Leverkusen win. (Photo Credit: Boniface/X)

Ndidi’s Transformation Deserves Recognition

While the NFF award traditionally focuses on attacking prowess, it’s important to acknowledge the remarkable transformation of Wilfred Ndidi. The 27-year-old midfielder has become a mainstay in Leicester City’s midfield, evolving from a defensive shield into a more dynamic box-to-box midfielder under manager Enzo Maresca.

Ndidi played a pivotal role in Leicester’s triumphant return to the Premier League, directly contributing to 12 goals with 6 goals and 6 assists in 35 Championship appearances. His tireless work ethic, improved passing range, and goalscoring threat have added a new dimension to his game.

Ndidi celebrating with the team

Ndidi celebrating with the team || Instagram

However, given the historical focus on attacking contributions, Ndidi is unlikely to be a serious contender for the NFF Player of the Year award.

The Verdict: Lookman’s Stellar Season Makes Him the Favourite

Based on his trophy, historic performance in a major European final, consistent contributions throughout the season, and an impressive showing at AFCON, Ademola Lookman appears to be the clear favorite for the NFF Player of the Year award. However, the final decision rests with the NFF Awards committee, and they may consider factors beyond pure statistics.

Victor Boniface and Victor Osimhen have also had strong seasons, but Lookman’s achievements on the biggest stage and his overall impact throughout the year make him the most likely candidate to be crowned the NFF’s best player in 2024.

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