First appeared in the East Anglian Daily Times on Mon 13.05.02
LOMANA Lua Lua, the former darling of Layer Road, has admitted that a weakness for Newcastle's bustling night-club scene almost ruined his career.
Lua Lua smashed the record transfer fee received by Colchester when moving to Newcastle United in a glamorous £2.25m deal in 2000.
The 21-year-old African gem had entertained U's supporters with a string of mesmerising cameo performances, including a stunning hat-trick at Loftus Road to sink Queen's Park Rangers in a memorable one-man show.
Premiership club scouts rolled up to Layer Road to drink in the dazzling skills of a still-raw Lua Lua, and it was former England and Ipswich Town boss Bobby Robson who took the plunge to lure him northwards to St James' Park.
Yet it has been no easy transition for front-runner Lua Lua, who was forced to spend most of his time on the substitutes' bench and in the reserves until the last month.
He finally negotiated the big final step towards the end of the season, scoring some vital goals to steer Newcastle into fourth spot and a Champions' League berth for next campaign.
But it almost went horribly wrong for arguably the biggest star ever to don a Colchester shirt.
"Bobby (Robson) has helped me mentally and to develop my life as a footballer," admitted Lua Lua.
"When I first came to the club, I was late for training all the time and was just as interested in the nightlife as football.
"He told me that I was only hindering my own chances of making progress, so I went away last summer determined to change my ways and go for it this season.
"I had to wait for my chance, but I'd like to think that the fans know they have a player here who can cut it at the highest level," added Lua Lua, who figured in the African Nations Cup for the Democratic Republic of Congo earlier in the year.
Lua Lua was discovered by U's Assistant Director of Youth Football Geoff Harrop, while playing in London. It was a gamble that paid off big-time, eventually earning the Division Two club some much-needed financial security for the future.
Although he scored twice in the Intertoto Cup, Lua Lua failed to break his duck in his first 37 Premiership appearances (mostly as a late substitute), until he suddenly hit the headlines with three goals during Newcastle's run-in.
Lua Lua celebrated his goals against West Ham, Derby County and Charlton Athletic with a series of backward flips and handstands, to the adulation of his Geordie admirers.
He attributes his recent success to Robson: "Bobby has also started to turn me into a more complete striker," continued Kinshasa-born Lua Lua.
"When I first came to the club, my head was down all time when I ran with the ball, but he told me to learn from Ryan Giggs.
"He dribbles but at the same time he knows when to give the ball, and I'm now doing that.
"It's been a fantastic experience to play in the final games of the season and, with the goals I've scored, I'd like to think that the fans now see me as an integral part of our plans for next season.
"With the Champions' League on the agenda, we are going to need a big squad of players and it's my aim to really push the likes of Alan Shearer and Craig Bellamy for a place in the side.
"I've naturally been disappointed not to have played more times this season, and there were occasions when I thought I'd get a chance and ended up being overlooked.
"But I've never doubted my ability and knew that when the time came, I had to make the most of it, which I'd like to think I have done.
"I'm not one of these guys who goes moaning to the papers when things don't happen. I've got my head down and have worked hard for the opportunity," concluded Lua Lua.