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Thursday, 16 February 2006

2798: Lomana Tresor Lua Lua: Sports

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by : Kieran McHugh

The African Nations Cup of 2006 will be remembered for illustrating all that is good and bad in African football today. A full stadium for the Cairo final saw two highly skilful, highly committed teams play out a tense goalless draw, before a dramatic shootout win for the hosts, Egypt.

The exporting of players to European club sides, and the willingness of ex-players, such as Togo’s Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi, to return to the continent to coach, has added an organisation previously lacking in the strongest African national sides. Arguably however, the unlikely hero on the pitch was Amr Zaki, currently still based on the continent and plying his trade for a lower league club in Egypt. Grabbing the winner in the semi final will surely earn him at least a move to either Al Ahly or Zamalek.

Leading up to the tournament the tales were all of player walkouts and disruption. Togolese national hero and recent addition to Arsenal’s striking line up, Emmanuel Adebayor fell out publicly with Keshi before a makeshift rapprochement allowed both parties to claim some kind of morale victory. Whether anyone can claim any kind of victory from the Nations Cup’s other big story is contentious.

On the eve of their first game in the tournament DR Congo’s captain and Portsmouth striker Lomana Tresor Lua Lua had become embroiled, on behalf of his teammates, in what appeared solely to be another tale of appearance money. No stranger to unwanted attention at the Nations Cup, Lua Lua was this time acting as any captain would and with the full backing of Head Coach, Claude Le Roy.

Sympathy was in short supply though in Tunisia in 2002 when he compounded a red card with a near assault on Jawar Mnari whom he considered to be feigning injury. Lua Lua played no further part in that tournament, left in disgrace and was subject to death threats in Kinshasa, the city of his birth.

“I was young, I was stupid” he says now of the incident. Cynics in Kinshasa considered that Lua Lua might have had had his head turned by the riches available playing club football and was reluctant to represent his country at all. Ahead of the 2006 tournament he told reporters, “I want to show everyone back home that I am not the arrogant, angry player they thought I was”.

He was also quick to back up Le Roy, asserting that the Frenchman “had been brilliant”, and was only concerned with providing the best possible preparation for the players. Le Roy, helping further to dispel rumours that Lua Lua can be a headache for managers repaid the compliment, although adding presciently that, “There are people in the government who do not respect the players”.

It took a phone call from DR Congo president Joseph Kabila to diffuse the row and allow the game to go ahead. What was said in that conversation is unlikely ever to be made public. However, sadly, we are lead to believe that Joseph Kabila did not respect his team’s captain enough to tell him a horrible truth, that of the death of his son, aged 18 months, only days earlier.

“Football”, said Lua Lua “is the only thing that unites the country. That’s why I have to be in Egypt”. The country is now united in grief for the way in which one of their favourite sons has been treated. United too, in respect for the man and his family and the way they have conducted themselves in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Kieran McHugh
14 February 2006

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