It could have been all so different for Diego Forlán. So he thought, at least. Some years back he famously told an interviewer the tale of his last match for Manchester United, against Chelsea in 2004. Sir Alex Ferguson told him to wear boots with soft-ground studs but, feeling more comfortable in moulded, low studs, he ignored his boss. Late on, Forlán lost his footing in front of goal and missed a chance and was never picked again.
After RB Leipzig’s late win at Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday, it appears that Fussballgott is very much on the side of Ademola Lookman. Three days after completing a Bundesliga loan move – much to the bemusement of the Everton manager, Sam Allardyce – the 20-year-old made his debut as a late substitute and promptly slalomed through Gladbach’s defence to stroke in a late winner.
The Leipzig coach Ralph Hasenhüttl’s reaction to Lookman’s decisive contribution at Borussia-Park was laced with similar disdain that Sir Alex had for the Uruguayan – at least according to Forlán’s side of the old tale – more than a decade before. “He was lucky I didn’t take him off again,” Hasenhüttl told Sky, smiling. “He only brought one pair of boots with him from England and he was sliding around all over the pitch.”
Perhaps the whirlwind nature of the last few days left the coach’s head spinning as much as it did the player’s. Hasenhüttl had asked for defensive cover in the window (especially after the serious injury to Marcel Halstenberg) but ended up with Lookman, partly because of the concern over a lingering abdominal muscle injury to Emil Forsberg. It was quite an un-Leipzig-ish deal struck with Everton, given there is no clause to make the transfer permanent.
For a club with such an apparently clear direction and way of working, the transfer window has been a very unsatisfactory experience for Leipzig, as the sporting director, Ralf Rangnick, admitted when speaking to Sky before Saturday’s match. The policy has been to steadfastly stick to locking in youngsters with development potential and sell-on value, rather than go for quick fixes or experience, but there appears to be a sense around the club that the team has shot up too quickly for the scouting system to develop as quickly as is required.
“Since the start of this season,” Rangnick told Sky, “we need good players who have Champions League levels [of quality]. We will now position ourselves to know every player in the world – everyone in Germany, everyone in Europe, China, Japan or wherever there are football players.” On Friday, Rangnick had announced a major restructuring of the scouting system and youth academy, with the under-19 side described by the former Hoffenheim coach as “our worst in six years”.
Hasenhüttl welcomed the move after the fraught winter window. “I can promise you we will do things differently in the summer,” he said. The first step towards that looks like being the arrival of Paul Mitchell, formerly of Southampton and Tottenham, to the club’s recruitment department.
In the end the surprise match-up between Leipzig and Lookman, the south Londoner who some suggested had been keen on a return to the capital but ended up being driven to eastern Germany by his ambition, could work out well. The former Charlton winger has clearly been attracted by the Bundesliga club’s excellent reputation for working on young talent, while Rangnick and company will still hope to sell the club to him, should this start become something. There is clearly already a belief in him that he didn’t feel at Goodison Park. “What we saw on the goal – it’s exactly what I hoped for from him,” Hasenhüttl enthused . “He has real quality one-on-one.”
There was a sense that it was meant to be, too, in that Lookman’s success came against Gladbach, whose sporting director, Max Eberl, is a big champion of Lookman’s generation of English talent, with Reece Oxford having arrived this season and Mandela Egbo recruited from Crystal Palace a few seasons back. Regardless of the “sustainability”, to quote Kicker, or otherwise of Lookman’s signing, he provided punch that was desperately needed.
This was a vital win, especially during a weekend in which Schalke let a lead slip and were defeated at home to Werder Bremen, and with the in-form Bayer Leverkusen held by Christian Streich’s game Freiburg. Leipzig’s growing pains in their maiden season in Europe have been forgiven, to an extent, by the shortcomings of their rivals – but if a Champions League spot is indeed there for the taking, at some point it has to be taken.
As Saturday’s match wore on, one wondered whether Leipzig’s profligacy would come back to bite them – Naby Keïta and Timo Werner spurned great chances, while the stand-in Gladbach keeper Tobias Sippel made a couple of excellent saves from Marcel Sabitzer – similar to last week, when a number of chances were missed in the home draw with lowly Hamburg. Then Lookman stepped in.
Leipzig’s modus operandi will remain the same, as the close eye they are keeping on Lyon’s coveted 16-year-old striker Willem Geubbels, who is still yet to ink a professional contract with the French club, demonstrates. They were always, however, going to need some ideological flexibility to evolve in the top flight and Europe. Lookman could turn into a potent symbol of that, as long as he uses the days before Friday’s match against Augsburg to track down that second pair of boots.
• The other debutant making hay after a temporary deadline-day move from the Premier League was Michy Batshuayi, whose spectacular Borussia Dortmund bow at Cologne incorporated scoring twice, having another chalked off for a marginal offside, assisting the revitalised André Schürrle’s winner and leading the line really well until fatigue caught up with him. In short, he looked perfectly at home in the black and yellow, which he joked prompted him to choose the move “as I like Batman and SpongeBob SquarePants”.
• If Dortmund’s five-goal thriller was tense, it was far less haphazard for Bayern Munich at Mainz, who they condemned to a week in the relegation play-off spot after winning 2-0 at the Opel Arena to move 18 points clear, aided by Leverkusen and Schalke’s slips. Franck Ribéry and James Rodríguez – the latter an emphatic finish to Corentin Tolisso’s wonderful pass – did the job before Tuesday’s visit to third-tier leaders Paderborn in the DfB Pokal quarter-final.
• Eintracht Frankfurt could have finished the weekend in second but crashed 3-0 at Augsburg on Sunday. They are one of a number of teams for whom the Pokal last eight is big – they play Mainz, Leverkusen face Bremen and Schalke play Wolfsburg – and did at least have the boost of Marco Fabián’s first appearance of the season after a major back injury.
• Hamburg faced being cut away in second bottom as they trailed to Iver Fossum’s roaring strike for Hannover but Filip Kostić’s far scruffier late goal got a second straight draw for the new coach, Bernd Hollerbach. Unfortunately, key defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos is banned for next week’s trip to Dortmund.