Leicester City’s unexpected relegation from the Premier League after a nine-year stint in the top flight has left fans and pundits alike in shock.
The Foxes, promoted to England’s elite division in 2014 and narrowly avoided relegation the following year, etched their name in football history by securing an astonishing Premier League title during the unforgettable 2015-16 campaign.
They became the darlings of the football world, capturing the hearts of neutrals around the globe.
Leicester continued to captivate audiences by lifting the English FA Cup in 2021.
With this triumph, Leicester City ascended to the ranks of the six most successful English clubs and joined an elite group of 14 clubs that have won all four major domestic competitions in English football.
The Foxes had firmly established themselves among the league’s giants.
They even tasted success on the European stage, reaching the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals in the 2016-17 season and the UEFA Europa Conference League semi-finals in 2021-22.
At this point, it seemed that the only direction for Leicester to go was up.
Enter the 2022-2023 season
As the 2022-2023 season kicked off, many top analysts predicted that Leicester City would comfortably secure a place in the top ten of the Premier League.
While any team can face challenges during a campaign, no one could have anticipated that the Foxes would find themselves embroiled in a survival battle, let alone being relegated.
In the lead-up to the season, though, Leicester City made a series of eyebrow-raising decisions.
The club allowed the departure of inspirational goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel to OGC Nice, sent Ademola Lookman back to his parent club RB Leipzig, and sold promising defender Wesley Fofana to Chelsea.
Undoubtedly, the sale of Fofana brought substantial financial gains to the club, with a reported fee of €80 million lining their coffers.
Leicester reinvested some of this windfall by acquiring Belgian defender Wout Faes from Stade Reims for €17 million.
However, the lingering question is why the club did not allocate an additional €9 or €10 million to secure the services of Ademola Lookman permanently.
Why sign Lookman?
Lookman arrived at the King Power Stadium on loan from Bundesliga giants RB Leipzig on August 31, 2021.
Born and raised in England, Lookman had already made a name for himself in the Premier League with eye-catching spells at Everton and Fulham.
Unsurprisingly, the flying winger needed little time to adapt to his new surroundings at Leicester.
He made a significant impact by scoring eight goals and providing five assists in all competitions for the Foxes.
Manager Brendan Rodgers was an ardent admirer of Lookman and openly expressed his desire for the club to secure the winger’s permanent signature.
In Rodgers’ own words, “He is a young player I really like, and he has done really well in his time here.
“We will discuss that over the coming weeks, and if it’s possible, I’d love to be able to do something because I think there is still growth in him. He is the type of player that, of course, I’d like to have.”
However, Rodgers’ fondness for Lookman was not shared by the Leicester City hierarchy, who ultimately decided not to exercise their option to sign the Nigerian international permanently.
Lookman in Serie A
On August 4, 2022, Italian club Atalanta seized the opportunity and secured Lookman’s services for just over €9 million.
The Nigerian forward seamlessly integrated into Serie A, wasting no time in making his mark.
Lookman announced his arrival by scoring on his debut in a 2-0 away victory against Sampdoria. He continued his impressive form, netting four league goals in October and adding two more in November.
However, it was in January that Lookman truly shone.
He scored twice against Italian giants Juventus, contributed to a brace in the 8-2 demolition of Salernitana, and topped it off with another goal in the victory over Sampdoria. This incredible run saw him find the back of the net five times in five games.
Leicester City’s struggles
While Lookman thrived in the Italian top flight, Leicester City struggled in England.
Despite boasting a formidable attacking trio in Patson Daka, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Jamie Vardy, the supply line to the frontmen was severely limited.
Vardy, a talismanic figure for the Foxes, ended the campaign with a meager three goals, a figure he hadn’t recorded since 2012.
Daka contributed four goals, while Kelechi Iheanacho, deservedly awarded the Player of the Season accolade, chipped in with five goals.
Leicester suffered defeat in 22 league matches and finished in the dreaded 18th position, condemning them to relegation to the Championship alongside Leeds United and Southampton.
Across the English Channel, Ademola Lookman continued to excel in Serie A, adding to his goal tally.
He finished his debut campaign in Italy with 13 league goals, a haul only bettered by four players, including top scorer Victor Osimhen.
Additionally, Lookman provided six assists for his teammates. He also showcased his prowess in the Coppa Italia, scoring two goals in the competition.
To cap off his remarkable season, Lookman was recently crowned Atalanta’s Player of the Season, becoming the first Nigerian to receive this prestigious honour in the club’s history.
Atalanta secured a fifth-place finish in Serie A, ensuring their participation in the Europa League for the upcoming season.
A cheap oversight, a costly blunder
As Leicester City prepares to face the challenges of the Championship, they are left pondering what could have been if they had heeded reason and signed Lookman on a permanent basis.
The winger’s performances in Italy have been nothing short of exceptional, highlighting his immense talent and ability to make an immediate impact.
With Lookman’s firepower and creativity, Leicester may have been better equipped to support their talented forwards and potentially secure their Premier League status.
Hindsight is a powerful tool, and Leicester City’s decision-makers must reflect on their choice to let Lookman slip through their fingers.
Clubs need to balance financial considerations with the long-term success and stability of their teams. In this case, the modest sum required to secure Lookman’s services pales in comparison to the impact he could have had on Leicester’s campaign.
Ultimately, the tale of Ademola Lookman and Leicester City is a cautionary reminder that astute recruitment and retaining key players can make all the difference in a club’s fortunes.
While it is impossible to predict the exact outcomes of different scenarios, the evidence suggests that Lookman’s presence could have provided the spark Leicester City desperately needed to avoid the devastating blow of relegation.
As the Foxes embark on their Championship journey, they will undoubtedly rue their failure to grasp the opportunity that Ademola Lookman presented, and perhaps they will learn from this costly mistake for the seasons to come.