ON a bleak autumn night, it was his big chance to shine.
Instead, in front of 137 Rotherham United followers, the EFL Trophy tie signalled the beginning of the end for Julien Lamy.
The young French winger was handed only his second start in a Rotherham United shirt on November 12 at Lincoln City.
However, only the Sincil Bank floodlights dazzled on a miserable evening that saw Paul Warne’s men exit the competition at the group stage with a deserved 3-0 defeat
As a team, the under-strength Millers never got going that night, and neither, on a personal level, did Lamy.
He’d arrived, untried and inexperienced, in the summer on a year-long deal after impressing during a trial set up on the recommendation of the agent of former AESSEAL New York Stadium loanee Ryan Manning.
“A development project,” said manager Warne, happy to give a chance to a prospect who wasn’t going to cost the club a fortune in wages.
Last month, the promoted Millers decided against exercising their option to extend his deal by 12 months.
Places will be at a premium in slimmed-down squads as football adapts to the financial effects of coronavirus and a player who had made only three appearances in League One, all as a substitute, would have been even further on the margins in the Championship.
There was a first flash of that huge smile and glimpses of pace and trickery before Lamy left the field only minutes into his first and only pre-season game, against non-league Parkgate FC.
The injury turned out to be much more serious than first feared and his broken leg would keep him out of contention for the opening two months of Rotherham’s third-tier campaign.
His signing had captured the imagination of fans seduced by the allure of French flair and there was a groundswell of support for the player, then 19, whose only previous taste of English football had been a bit of youth-team action at West Bromwich Albion.
His encouraging debut in a 3-2 EFL Trophy home win over Doncaster Rovers on October 8 — a couple of light-footed runs cutting inside from the left flank and a long-range shot that thumped the woodwork — had them clamouring to witness more.
The longer he sat on the bench, the better a player he became in some terrace eyes, but the hard truth was that he wasn’t quite ready for the testing, unrelenting demands of League One.
That big smile
The pretty side of the game came naturally to him. The ugly side was something with which he never entirely came to grips. High on promise, lower on pragmatism.
Back in Lincolnshire, only 13 minutes of the second half had been played when Warne had seen enough and Lamy was taken off.
Six days before his 20th birthday, he hadn’t done the hard yards. There was a failure to grasp what was required and he was still trying fancy flicks as the game slipped further from Rotherham’s grasp. It was a time for purposeful discipline, not for shedding possession too cheaply.
One poor game wasn’t going to completely end Rotherham’s hope in him and Warne went to extra lengths to aid the attacker’s progress.
Worried that Rotherham’s requirements weren’t getting through to Lamy whose English wasn’t fluent, the boss brushed up on his schoolboy French to speed up the communication during training.
Thus appeared on the whiteboard on the wall behind the desk in Warne’s Roundwood office a series of key conversions that included:
Head — tete
Speed — vitesse
Pass — passer
Cross — traverser
Significantly, ‘press — presse’ was also up there to encourage a player who wasn’t doing enough without the ball for the Millers’ liking.
Somewhere, the message got lost in translation. Lamy’s third-tier bow had come as a 77th-minute sub against Oxford United three and a half weeks before the Lincoln clash and it would be two months after the Sincil Bank game before he was used in the league again.
“I think Julien’s done okay,” said Warne in early January. “When he trains, he trains well. When he plays in the reserves, he does okay.
His last Millers appearance, at Peterborough
“If you want to play in the first team you need to be the best player on the pitch for the ressies.
“When he’s played in first-team games he’s done okay. He hasn’t done enough to cement himself in the first team.”
Lamy is a lovely, lovely lad and his big beam and strong handshake for all and sundry at Roundwood were a feature of the training ground.
Christmas Day was spent as a welcome guest of his manager in the bosom of the Warne family at their home in Tickhill.
He lived with his older brother, who is also his agent, in the town centre only a minute’s walk from New York. His brother is very committed to him but maybe gives his younger sibling an inflated impression about the level at which he should be playing.
Rotherham grew into the strongest side in the division in 2010/20 yet for a spell early on their home results were disappointing, a circumstance which, ironically, hindered Lamy’s chances of senior football rather than helped them.
“I’ve often looked to put him on but then gone somewhere else and opted for a bit of experience,” said Warne at the time.
“In fairness, if we were flying at home I’d probably have given him more chances on the pitch. We haven’t had the kind of season at home where I can experiment with anyone off the bench really.
“We are trying to do loads with him on his out-of-possession stuff. With the ball at his feet he’s fine. He struggles a bit more with the out-of-possession stuff.”
Following the Lincoln disappointment, Lamy didn’t start again, seeing league action late on off the bench in the 3-0 January 18 home win over Bristol Rovers and the 2-1 defeat a week later at Peterborough United where only a dubious refereeing decision prevented him earning a stoppage-time penalty.
In all, he turned out five times for the Millers and never played a full 90 minutes.
He’d been thrilled beyond measure to be given a year to prove himself, so much so that the club had to tell him to calm down his excited activity on Twitter.
However, frustration had dimmed that engaging grin by the time he went out on loan to League One strugglers AFC Wimbledon on the final day of the January transfer window.
At League One Wimbledon, his debut came as 75th-minute replacement in a 2-1 home loss to Fleetwood on February 8 and he was then an unused sub once before starting and finishing in a 5-0 February 18 hammering at Oxford United. He would be on the bench three more times without seeing action after that.
That Lamy has talent isn’t in doubt. The lack of a breakthrough last season wasn’t so much about what he could do as failing to improve on what he couldn’t. The Millers were right to offer him an opportunity and also right to release him.
It can’t have been easy for a young man to try to make his way in a foreign land. If age stiffens his heart and head, he could still have a future in the game. I very much hope he does.
A private message I left him on Twitter after Rotherham’s retained list was announced elicited a heartwarming response full of determination and humility.
Publicly, the manager had left open the door to a possible New York return, but the key was already turning in the lock before Covid-19 struck and made squad places even harder to come by.
Rotherham said goodbye with their best wishes.
Or ‘Au revoir, meilleurs voeux’ as Warne might have written on his office whiteboard.