The Monday Profile: Kazenga LuaLua
Loans are all about exposure – whether it be an ageing or currently overlooked professional reminding other clubs of his existence and attributes or a talented but raw youngster handed the opportunity to gain valuable competitive experience. The three loanees we (Newcastle) have sent out this season have all been of the latter variety, and to say they’ve enjoyed mixed fortunes would be an understatement.
North of the border, Fraser Forster has excelled between the sticks as Celtic won their first seven league games before finally coming unstuck against Old Firm enemies Rangers. By contrast, Ben Tozer got his spell at Northampton off to a dream start, making his debut in the 2-1 League Cup win at Anfield and then scoring at home to Bradford, but everything soon descended into nightmare as the club plummeted towards the foot of the League Two table. Tozer’s remarkable final game saw Leon McKenzie score a first-half hat-trick, only for the Cobblers’ defence to ship four to basement side Hereford in the second period and our man dispatched for an early bath for violent conduct – and subsequently packed off back to Tyneside.
Mercifully for our third loanee, Kazenga LuaLua, his stint at Brighton is mirroring Forster’s sojourn at Celtic rather than Tozer’s turbulent time at Sixfields. Unlike the other two, though, he has at least had some taste of football in a black and white shirt, most recently in the League Cup tie against Accrington Stanley in August when his pace and trickery came increasingly to the fore and only the width of the post prevented him from notching his first senior goal.
This is not LuaLua’s first loan spell (his first was at Doncaster) or even his first at Brighton, for that matter (he turned out for the Seagulls in the spring, recommended by Dennis Wise to his former assistant at Leeds, Gus Poyet). The winger appears to have settled in well at the League One table-toppers, and for someone many of us suspect may take after his older brother Lomano in dazzling often but delivering rarely, he is certainly doing his best to suggest otherwise, both in terms of scoring goals and creating them for others.
LuaLua’s four strikes in nine appearances thus far have all been special: fabulous free-kicks against MK Dons and in the eye-catching 4-0 drubbing of Charlton, games in which Glenn Murray and Matt Sparrow respectively were the beneficiaries of his creativity; the solitary goal in the victory over Brentford; and a scorcher from distance to claim a point in the south coast clash with Bournemouth.
What’s interesting, though, is that while Poyet has publicly lauded LuaLua’s talent and expressed a desire to retain his services beyond the end of the current loan, he’s intent on using his temporary talisman judiciously and sparingly, sometimes keen to spice up the side but equally unafraid of leaving him out – as was the case for Saturday’s convincing 3-0 triumph at promotion rivals Peterborough. If LuaLua returns to St James’ a better player for the experience, then we’ll have to give grudging thanks to a man who repeatedly inflicted deep wounds on us during his playing career.
But there lies the rub: will LuaLua indeed come back? Loans can be a double-edged sword, opening players’ eyes up to life beyond their parent club, and the prospect of turning out for the reserves must seem a lot less appealing once you’ve tasted regular first-team action. After Steve Harper was injured in our win at Everton, Fraser Forster was moved to claim he’d be “gutted” to be recalled, adding: “I want to play week in, week out and sitting on a bench is not something I want. The only way I will progress in my career is if I am out playing in front of big crowds”. Clearly Chris Hughton will face a significant challenge in persuading him to stay.
Shortly after heading to Brighton LuaLua did at least declare his intention to make a name for himself on Tyneside, and with Hatem Ben Arfa out long term, Dan Gosling still sidelined and Wayne Routledge struggling to recapture his Championship form, he may yet be able to force his way into the first-team frame. But visiting scouts at the Withdean – not to mention the Seagulls’ own hierarchy – are no doubt scenting possibilities, and I wouldn’t rule out a January bid of between £500,000 and £1m being enough to persuade us to part company permanently.
Should the offers come in, then their object won’t be short of fellow professionals to ask for advice – he can call upon the counsel of brother Lomano and cousins Yannick Bolasie (Plymouth) and Tresor Kandol (formerly of Leeds), for a start…