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LuaLua in right mind thanks to Poyet's psychology lessons

Saturday, 5 January 2013 - 11:37am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Talented but frustrating winger proving to Brighton manager he merits shot at old side Newcastle today.

To tap into a manager's thoughts at team-selection time read this from Brighton's Gus Poyet: "There are four or five players a manager will play because you like them or you think they're very important. The rest - it's up to them. If they play and train well, they're in. If they are rubbish, they are out."

This perfect articulation of first-XI critical mass should be of interest to Kazenga LuaLua, a talented 23 year-old acquired from Newcastle United, Brighton's FA Cup third-round opponents at the Amex Stadium on Saturday. LuaLua insists he will not celebrate a goal against the club who took him on at the behest of his older and more celebrated brother, Lomana, but his admirers on the south coast will rejoice if this enigmatic winger finally joins Poyet's core of regulars.

The rematch of last year's FA Cup fourth-round tie, which Brighton won, presents one of the most upwardly mobile Championship clubs with another chance to measure themselves against Premier League opposition. It revives memories of their great 1983 Cup run (Newcastle were among their early victims on the road to Wembley). But for LuaLua, who faces a retrial at Newcastle Crown Court in June on charges of affray after the first jury was unable to reach a verdict, today's televised tie offers a more positive future.

Poyet was making a general point about players who are in and out of sides: "They think the problem is with the manager picking the team and being too clever. But the problem is with them." LuaLua, though, fits that description. Born in Kinshasa in the Congo, he was a 15 year-old fiddling with a PlayStation in Newcastle when Lomana came home and said Alan Shearer's old club wanted to take a look at him.

"Get your stuff, you're going on trial for Newcastle," were Lomana's precise words. Kazenga says: "I remember I used to ask him all the time, 'Can you get me a trial with Newcastle?' because I was playing with a local team [Wallsend Town] and he said he'd speak to the manager and see what he said.

"I went on trial for three weeks and after that they picked me up. I was there for five or six years, which was like a dream for me because Newcastle is a massive club. But it was time for me to leave. I don't think I got a chance and when you don't, that's the time to think about leaving and I think I made the right choice."

Unless the tape was lying, LuaLua said, "Ha'way, like" during this interview: an echo of his Geordie days. "It will be a special game for me," he says. "It's been a very tough season for me, with many things off the field as well. It's just good to get back in the team and try to play well, which I think I'm doing at the moment."

Brighton beat Newcastle and Sunderland (in the League Cup) last season but were crushed 6-1 at Anfield in the FA Cup fifth round. Poyet is candid about the gap in class he hopes LuaLua and others with Premier League experience will help to bridge. "I can tell you that Reading and Southampton last year were the best teams in the division by far and now they are struggling in the Premier League," he says.

"Sorry to say that to the managers. I'm not going against them, I'm saying that they are struggling because it has been difficult for them to win football games. That means there is a big gap for the rest of us. When I talk about quality, I'm not only talking about the technical ability, I'm talking about everything. Everything means players in the Premiership can sprint more times than you, they are quicker than you, they are stronger than you, they read the game better than you, they are more intelligent. It's everything."

Like many Championship clubs Brighton and Poyet prioritise the promotion drive over a Cup run. But for LuaLua, whose mum, sister and cousin still live in Newcastle, third-round romance remains intact, even if he is banned from parading his old double back-flip goal celebration - Poyet thinks it too dangerous.

"I don't think I'll celebrate if I score because Newcastle are the team that gave me my professional contract," LuaLua says. "So out of respect for the fans and the club as well I don't think it's the right thing if I celebrate."

The fracas outside a nightclub that ended with him in court is a familiar Tyneside tale. He says: "If you ask any players they'll say Newcastle is a party town and everybody knows everybody. That's probably why Demba Ba left, because of parties. There are a lot of temptations in Newcastle. When I made the choice to leave it was a good choice for me. I used to play games then go out with my friends then come back at stupid times. I don't do that any more. I live on my own and I'm happy on my own. Everything seems to be going well for me. I've settled down."

Poyet is under constant pressure to pick him. He says: "People will come here and say, 'Kaz should play'. What happened during the week? He was in court, or he was not training well all week, or he was ill, or he had a personal issue. Kaz is one of those players. So until he gets clear from the court case he is not the same person.

"We made him play in an under-21s game to give a him a full game. He didn't work. Normally when you've played 90 minutes you warm down the next day. We said no. We said, 'You train'. And he was the best player in training. He realised he was not good enough until then. Now he's a different player. And he's playing."

Football management: a branch of psychology.
 


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