Amidst the usual flurry of summer transfer activity, it was easy for Lomana Lua Lua’s surprise move to Greek giants Olympiacos to slip under the radar. Tasked with replacing Mexican wonderkid Nery Castillo, whose Copa America performances led to a £12M move to Ukrainians Shakhtar Donestk, Lua Lua has an unenviable task ahead of him. But it is one he has already made a positive start to.
Lomana Lua Lua is a Premier League player through and through. In fact, until this season, he had never played club football for a team beyond the shores of England. For all intents and purposes he is an English product, schooled in the ways of the game by those who invented it, yet never losing his natural African flair.
Lua Lua was spotted by a scout from Colchester United and joined the club in 1998. Making your way in English football for anyone not native to the land is hard enough, but it is even harder if you have to begin the journey at the unwelcoming Layer Road. It isn’t so much that Colchester is a typical lower division side, but more the kick and rush game played at that level that sets apart the men from the boys. That Lua Lua flourished is testament to his determination just as much as his ability.
Catching the eye of Newcastle United ensured he played Premier League football sooner rather than later, but it took a move to Portsmouth and the playing time Harry Redknapp afforded him to showcase his skills on a regular basis and gain the plaudits he so rightly deserved.
A reputation for inconsistency only came about because at his very best he was a match for any defence in the league, whilst putting in an average performance still meant opposition defenders needed to keep a close eye on him. It can easily be forgotten that Lua Lua could have played for England, if only he had chosen to represent the country in which he learnt his trade.
Such a statement might sound fanciful, but interest from Liverpool and Arsenal at points in his career point to his potential, whilst a thought back to forwards who have collected international caps in his position in the recent past confirms this. Players such as Michael Ricketts and Emile Heskey have no more ability than Lua Lua and surely come up short in the flair department.
This summer however Lua Lua’s love affair with the English top flight came to an unexpected end. A move to the Greek Champions Olympiacos surprised many English commentators who found it hard to believe a that Lua Lua, who obviously had so much still to offer the Premier League was leaving for the veritable backwater of the Greek Super League.
Lua Lua was a Harry Redknapp type player, quick, tricky and with an abundance of flair to change a game in an instant. The affable cockney had no wish to sell the speedy Congan, but had his hand forced by Lua Lua himself. “Lua wants to move on” Redknapp commented “He wants to play abroad (and) he will get to play in the Champions League by moving to Greece
Lua Lua had tasted the Champions League with Newcastle earlier in his career and it was a stage to which he was eager to return. Olympiacos have allowed him to do just that and he has already played a full part in the clubs first away win in the competition (the 3-1 victory at Werder Bremen) for 31 games.
There is no doubt that the Greek Super League will be an almighty step down in terms of opposition for Lomana, but he refutes claims he has taken the easy option, “this is a massive club and we are expected to win the title over our big rivals Panathinaikos every year”. What is clear is that if Lua Lua can cut the inconsistency from his game and play as all in the Premier League know he can, he will tear the defences in Greece to shreds.
There has often been much debate about his best position, some believing his excellent dribbling skills and speed make him the perfect winger. In fact Olympiacos supporters got an early look at his trickery when, in his debut against hated rivals Panathinaikos, Lua Lua almost caused his opponents new signing Mattos (a highly rated young Brazilian defensive midfielder bought from Corinthians) to fall flat on his behind. The footage was shared throughout the Olympiacos community, to much amusement.
But if there are those who see Lua Lua as the perfect winger, there are also an equal amount that see him as the ideal frontman. A cool head in the box, combined with yes, that lighting pace, and the ability to use his African flair to do the unexpected, add up to make a deadly predator. Only 5 goals in the Premier League for Newcastle in four years and 19 for Portsmouth over 3 perhaps say more about the versatility that has allowed his managers to move him around than they do about his deadliness.
The man himself envisages a different role from those of winger and forward we have been used to seeing him play. Lua Lua, it seems, wants to play in the hole behind the strikers and in front of the midfield, something of a free role. Former boss Redknapp said as much when Lua left “he wants a change, he wants to play in a role behind the strikers”. Players always have their own opinions on where they want to play, whether Lua Lua is right and it will be his best position, only time will tell.
In Greece, for the Champions, he will be one of the main men, relied upon to change games and take chances when they come his way, especially in the Champions League. Perhaps Lua Lua will benefit from this extra focus and responsibility. Certainly for his country, DR Congo, he is seen (when he plays) as something of a talisman. His record of 7 goals in 10 games is impressive and all the more so given the quality of the players around him.
Lua Lua will not be in any doubt of his importance to his new Greek team. Even coming from a country with wall to wall football coverage and rolling news like England, he was surprised at what awaited him in Greece. “Even I was surprised to be greeted by a 15-strong camera crew when I landed at Athens airport to sign for the club” he commented.
Make no mistake, the Premier League has lost an exciting player in Lua Lua full of the pace and power needed to flourish in the English top flight. Spectators at grounds from Old Trafford to Fratton Park have enjoyed watching him, now Greek football fans will have their chance too.