Ademola Lookman is in the form of his life with Atalanta, so explains how things changed in Serie A both on and off the field, working with Gian Piero Gasperini and how his childhood in London made him ‘tough.’

The 25-year-old was born and raised in London, with his roots in Nigeria, and chose to represent the African side at international level.

He was signed over the summer from RB Leipzig for €9m after a loan spell at Leicester City and has been simply a sensation with Atalanta, scoring 13 goals and providing four assists in 19 games between Serie A and the Coppa Italia.

What has changed for Lookman since coming to Italy?

“Mentality, preparation,” he told The Times.

“My routine is a lot different to what it was. Everything’s focused on helping me perform. I watch interviews with people who are doing well in life like Jay-Z, someone at the top of the world who I can learn from. Jay-Z has come from basically nothing and is now a billionaire. That takes more than desire and guts, it takes execution and a plan, direction and confidence.

“I’ve started eating a lot of plain foods like white pasta, like more fish. That’s my diet. No sauce. Some vegetables. Sleep’s very important, trying to get in eight hours.

“After games, I’ll do recovery, maybe going into the cryochamber, doing some upper body [work], some stretching. As long as I’m doing everything I can in my power, and not cutting corners, the rest is up to God. Faith gives me that extra bit of hope and confidence.”

Lookman also feeds off the enthusiasm of the Atalanta ultras, who are so glad to be back in the stadium after Bergamo was hit harder than anywhere else in Italy by the pandemic.

“They’re an inspiration, definitely,” Lookman says. “They love the club. During a game, I don’t ever hear them stop singing. Ever. Throughout the whole 95, 96 minutes, I always hear them. They are behind me and that gives me that extra energy as well.”

He is taking Italian lessons regularly, mainly because coach Gasperini does not speak English, even if it is a very international squad.

“I understand what he says when he talks slowly but when he’s talking very fast it’s hard for me. But I’m picking up Italian pretty good.

“(Gasperini) is intense, a strong man, a top coach. He always wants us to attack, he loves seeing goals. But there’s a structure: he wants us to build through the thirds.

“I definitely have a defensive role [as well], to help the team within the structure, but that defensive role also allows me to attack. Italian football is known for structure. When you play against a team like Juventus or Spezia you see how diligent each player is defensively. They’re so drilled on structure here.

“We’ve an amazing team, a strong team, a team full of talent, a team full of hunger and passion, so there are big things on the horizon for the team.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing in Italy, of course, as there was a bizarre moment when he scored against Udinese and was booked by referee Daniele Doveri for his trademark binoculars celebration.

“Maybe he thought I was doing it towards the Udinese fans just to annoy them. Maybe he didn’t know that was my celebration. I do it every time. I think they know now. It’s just become my trademark. My name as well. Lookman.”

It wasn’t easy to grow up in London where there aren’t many pitches to practice on, so players learn their craft in special fenced-off areas.

“I’ve always had confidence. Just from a kid, I remember playing football and feeling, ‘yes, I can really do this’. I’ve never changed from that, from six, seven, the fire has never changed.

“If someone’s coming in hard, you’re landing on concrete so I came out the cage with grazes on my knees, grazing on my elbows, you may even hit your head on the ground.”

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