Redemption for true pro Lomana
When Colchester Vital Football writer Matt Calmus met former Colchester United striker Lomana LuaLua just over a year ago for the local press, he was recovering from injury, and pondering a move away from Fraton Park.
Here, Matt recalls previously unused parts of the interview to reflect on how times have changed for the DR Congo man over the past 12 months.
The sign that former Colchester United coach Mickey Cook is hanging on the gym door at the Colne Community School threatens to break hearts: "LuaLua delayed in traffic." Then Mickey, a one-time Layton Orient and U`s professional, gives the assembled media a wink; this is how he planned it all along.
It is about 1pm, on a chilly autumn day in Essex, by the time Lomana Tresor LuaLua arrives. Spared a mobbing, he receives applause from around 30 students as he enters a large hall. Mickey`s one-time protégée has, in football speak, 'done good.`
The 26-year old Portsmouth striker, back in East Anglia as a favour for one-time mentor, has returned to his second home to re-tell the story of his footballing rise to young hopefuls at a local school`s new Soccer Academy.
That day, Mickey stets the tone, saying: "My 30-year experience in professional Football has taught me that many boys can come into the game as late developers, which can be a slow process." LuaLua was case in point, having joined the Colchester ranks at 16, after scouts had spotted him in London. Despite his, in footballing terms, late development, Lomana made his U`s debut within a year of joining, and went on to score 15 goals in 37 starts for the club.
Not that the Democratic Republic of Congo international always wanted to be a footballer: "I loved running, so wanted to go into athletics - I could run all day."
However, he turned his attention to football, even if, as he admitted last year, he did not always take it seriously at first. "I tuned up late for training a few times when I first joined Colchester - I got kicked off the team and sent to work at McDonalds where I was cleaning toilets."
"I thought 'this is not what I want to be doing,` took the second chance given to me, and went back to Colchester, kicking a football in basketball shoes. I didn`t care, I just wanted to be in the team!"
That experience made him tough, as if living in Congo had not already hardened his veins. When sitting beside a man who has with his own rap contract and clothing range in the pipeline, the thought occurred that LuaLua`s priorities had changed beyond comprehension over the past decade.
While he would have given anything to be playing a decade ago, he now looks beyond the scope of the game in which he plies his trade, but not once does he forget its importance in shaping his life. To quote the comment he gave this column: "I thank God for every day, he blessed me to play football."
After pressing him on all things football, Lomana revelled his favourite fellow professionals within the game to be former England international Robert Lee (since retired), and, another one-time Newcastle United team-mate, Gary Speed, now at Bolton.
The burning question, however is, which game does Lomana rate as the best in his carer to date? "My last, against QRP. It was the best leaving present I could have given Colchester and the supporters." Too right it was - that day bagged a hat-trick, and his individual was one of the best ever given by a U`s player in recent history.
"At Newcastle, there were so many big names," said the man whose £2.5 pound transfer to Tyneside in 2000 remains the highest fee ever received fee by Colchester United. "It was hard to believe I was playing with Alan Shearer, sometimes, and I had a great coach in Bobby Robson. But eventually I needed to play more football."
Which is why he made the switch - initially on loan - to Portsmouth in 2003. When this column spoke to LuaLua last autumn, as he was recovering from a failure to take malaria medication, it was clear to see, underneath his determined words, that we was not content entirely with life on the South Coast.
Lomana, who refused to be drawn on comments about then French manager Alan Perrin, was generous in his praise for Harry Redknap, whom he labelled as 'honest`. The one-time captain of his country went onto speak of a hope that he would seal of a dream move to boyhood club Tottenham Hotspur in the near future.
Fast-forward a year, however, and he is now fully committed to the Pompy cause, since old 'Arry is back at the helm. He is ambitious, despite having only scored twice Portsmouth this season, and might yet realise the club`s ambition to qualify for European football next season. The simile is back on his face, after an exceptionally difficult period of his life, at a time when he also lost his young son, Jesus.
LuaLua, who attributed all his success to in life God during our interview, was equally philosophical when talking about the passing of his child in the nation`s press. He vowed to dedicate each goal for the rest of his carer to the beloved memory of his son.
If redemption exists in soccer, then LuaLua is feeling its force, enjoying his fair share of fine performances in a sparkling Portsmouth side in 2006/7. Not bad for a former Col U fledgling who went from delivering the happy meal, to using those happy feet on the football field, in almost no time at all.