Soccer-Hat-trick hero Lookman takes winding road to Europa League triumph

Soccer Football - Europa League - Final - Atalanta v Bayer Leverkusen - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland - May 22, 2024 Atalanta's Ademola Lookman poses for a picture with the trophy after winning the Europa League Final REUTERS/Paul Childs

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Atalanta's Europa League hat-trick hero Ademola Lookman admitted that he had to wait a while for success after years in and out of favour at different clubs but said it was "just the beginning" after he sank Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday.

The Nigeria forward became the first person to score a hat-trick in a Europa League final in the 3-0 win, which handed the Bergamo club their first major trophy in 61 years and ended the German champions' remarkable 51-game unbeaten streak.

"Maybe it could have come earlier, but it's come now," said the 26-year-old Lookman, who bounced around in England with Everton, Fulham and Leicester City and in Germany with RB Leipzig before settling in Atalanta two seasons ago.

"This is just the beginning. I hope for more nights like this and to just keep getting better and better," he told a news conference.

Lookman, who was a youth international for England, credited the Atalanta coaching staff and leadership of manager Gian Piero Gasperini for his revival. Since arriving at the club, he has scored 30 goals in 76 matches.

He pointed in particular to Gasperini's belief in attacking football that has helped him to flourish.

"The first conversations I had with him made me look at football a lot different. It made things simple. It allowed me to play my game in a different light. I'm very grateful to him," he said.

Asked if he would have imagined such a night in his wildest dreams while starting out as a teenager at Charlton Athletic, Lookman responded: "Probably yeah."

"I've always had the confidence in my ability to create, to score goals, to help my team mates. In the past two years I've been able to take my game to a whole new level," he said.

(Reporting by Tommy Lund in Gdansk and Padraic Halpin Dublin; Editing by Toby Davis)

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