The story would be told someday, surely, about how Bayer Leverkusen came incredibly close to going through the entire 2023/24 season without defeat in all competitions — until, that is, they encountered a five-foot-nine Nigerian giant called Ademola Lookman.

Leverkusen had completed a flawless Bundesliga campaign as champions last weekend, finishing 17 points clear of their nearest ‘challengers’, and were two finals — one in the UEFA Europa League and another three days later in the DFB-Pokal — away from sweeping it all in a manner no team in European football had ever done.

Atalanta, their opponents in the Europa League final, may have knocked out favourites Liverpool en route to the showdown in Dublin and not lost in Serie A since early April, but they did not exactly appear mighty enough to end Leverkusen’s 51-game run of invincibility.

If any of the two contestants was expected to dominate Wednesday's encounter, it was Xabi Alonso's freshly-minted German champions.

But Atalanta, presented with a chance to win a first major trophy in over six decades and simultaneously punch a ticket to next year's UEFA Champions League, were up to the task — and manager Gian Piero Gasperini had just the man to execute it.

Gasperini's Atalanta team does not have any real stars, with the squad being built out of prospects, B-listers, and players keen to find their paths again after losing them elsewhere.

Nigeria's Lookman belongs to the last category, having failed to maximise the chances he had, mostly in the country of his birth, England, before his 2022 move to Bergamo.

In Lombardy, however, he has found a home, a place where he has thrived. A return of 15 goals and eight assists in the 33 appearances of his first season was certainly impressive, and he has already reached the same total this term (albeit in more games).

He got a goal and an assist in the 3-0 win against Olympique Marseille that saw Atalanta past the Europa League semi-finals, and Gasperini resting him for La Dea's last game (a 2-0 defeat of Lecce in the league) suggested Lookman was being saved for the showdown with Leverkusen.

If so, well, it worked a treat.

It must be mentioned at this point, though, that Lookman was not the Nigerian many would have expected to leave a mark on this final. That distinction would have belonged to Victor Boniface, Leverkusen’s topscorer, who had scored five times in eight Europa League games this season; Lookman, in comparison, had just two in ten.

Boniface, however, did not even start.

By the time he was introduced by Alonso, at the start of the second half, Lookman had scored twice — first from a predatory move in the box, and then through a brilliant solo effort from a bit farther out — to put Atalanta in a fairly solid lead.

Given how often Leverkusen have come from behind this season — frequently in pretty dramatic fashion — however, there was absolutely no reason to believe the deficit was beyond Die Werkself's recovery.

The game, despite seemingly slipping away from them, was still theirs to lose.

All hopes of a comeback, though, only lasted until the 75th minute, when Leverkusen conceded a third.

Defeat was not the only thing the team had avoided this season prior to their duel with Atalanta; their defence had also not been breached more than twice in a game.

So when Lookman completed his hat-trick with a sixth of the game's duration still to go — with his weaker foot, as he did for the opener — it took Leverkusen into completely unfamiliar territory, one they would not return from. This, even for a side that seemed to have an inexhaustible reserve of lives, was a bridge too far.

And for Atalanta — a team that has American film company Paramount as its shirt sponsor — this was a proper Hollywood epic, a story of a team that has risen from obscurity and of a city that has prevailed through adversity. They had ripped Leverkusen’s own fairytale to write their own, with Lookman acting it all out to perfection in the lead role.

“One of the best nights of my life,” Lookman said after the game.

It may well be an understatement.

This was a performance full of confidence, a trait Lookman has never really lacked in his career.

Even at a younger age, just four years ago, he had the nerve to attempt a ‘panenka’ when his team at the time, Fulham, were awarded a penalty during the concluding minutes of a Premier League game in which they were trailing West Ham 1-0.

It ended in humiliation, though, as that kick looped tamely into the goalkeeper's arms and ensured the Cottagers’ defeat (in a season that eventually saw them relegated).

That chastening experience was the lingering memory most football fans had of Lookman before his heroics this week, but the 26-year-old has certainly changed the narrative now. And yet that incident is not the only disappointment in his career that Lookman's match-winning shift has guaranteed him recovery from.

As he celebrated with his teammates post-match, also clutching the match-ball and Man of the Match prize, Lookman did not look like a man who had already lost two finals this year — in the Coppa Italia last week and at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in February.

Replacing the heartache of misses in the distant and recent past is the distinction of being the first African footballer to score two goals or more in the final of a major UEFA competition and the first player ever to get a Europa League final hat-trick, as well as a first piece of silverware of his career since winning the FIFA U-20 World Cup with England in 2017.

And after a season that has seen him collect medals in all but one of the competitions he has featured in for club and country — averaging more than one goal involvement every other game — be surprised not to hear his name whispered among the contenders for the next African Player of the Year award.

Really, why not?

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.