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Lookman fits as protagonist of Atalanta's underdog success story

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Ademola Lookman was Atalanta's hat-trick hero on the club's greatest ever night in Dublin as German champions Bayer Leverkusen were vanquished 3-0 in the Europa League final on Wednesday.

Leverkusen arrived in the Irish capital unbeaten in 51 games this season and on course for a remarkable treble.

But it was Atalanta's rise under Gian Piero Gasperini that finally found its ultimate reward.

Lookman may be an unlikely figure to score the first hat-trick in a European final since 1975.

However, the Nigerian is a prime example of the savvy recruitment and excellent coaching from Gasperini that has allowed a provincial club to step out from the shadow of nearby giants AC and Inter Milan.

Born in England and a product of the Charlton Athletic youth academy, Lookman's first big break came with a move to Everton before joining RB Leipzig.

But he struggled for first team opportunities at both clubs and ended up in the lower reaches of the Premier League in loan spells at Fulham and Leicester.

Lookman only ended up in Bergamo due to the influence of Atalanta's former head of sport Lee Congerton, who had previously worked at Leicester.

Now he will forever be fondly remembered in northern Italy as the architect of the finest victory in Atalanta's 116-year history.

"No one ever imagined he could make this much progress," said Gasperini.

"He did something that will remain in the annals of history. He has carried himself as an incredible player and a match-winner."

Lookman's treble took his tally in two seasons with the club to 30.

He also helped fire Nigeria to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations this year and believes his career is ready to explode at the age of 26.

"I've always had confidence in my ability," said Lookman.

"In the past few years I've been able to take my game to a new level and show that on a more consistent basis.

"I'm pleased with the progress I've made but this is just the beginning. I hope for more nights like this."

Rough diamonds

Lookman is far from the only rough diamond that Gasperini has polished to turn Atalanta into a force in Serie A and on the continent.

He formed a fearsome front three this season with Charles De Ketelaere and Gianluca Scamacca after their difficult spells at AC Milan and West Ham respectively.

"The first few conversations I had with him made me look at football differently," added Lookman.

"He made it simpler in my mind and made me look at my game in a different light."

Gasperini reiterated his feeling that it did not take a trophy to vindicate the fine work he has done over the past eight years.

"I never believed one trophy would change our journey - the run we have been on is worth more than one piece of silverware," said the 66-year-old.

"The game we have played tonight is the result of the journey."

However, Gasperini did ackowledge that Atlanta's first major trophy for 61 years and the first of his coaching career was a rare victory for the underdog in a sport usually dominated by the clubs with the deepest pockets.

"To win it with Atalanta is perhaps one of the football fairytales that rarely gives scope for meritocracy," said Gasperini.

"It doesn't always come down to cold hard numbers or super leagues but shows teams without huge budgets can achieve big things."

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