Player Profile: Eric Djemba-Djemba
Date of Birth: 4/5/1981
Height: 1.80 m
Position: Defensive midfielder
National Team: Cameroon
International Caps: 34
International Goals: 0
Imagine having a playing career that took you to virtually all the corners of the globe but being remembered for your biggest failure. Well that’s Eric Djemba-Djemba. Coming through as a teenager at a time when African youngsters were moving to Europe en-masse, the midfielder managed to earn a living from football for more than two decades. Yet, the one thing he is most remembered for is his failed stint at Manchester United where fans still describe him as one of the worst players ever to don the famous red shirt.
Djemba-Djemba left his native Cameroon when he was only nineteen to play for French club Nantes. He formed a formidable partnership with Mathieu Berson in the Nantes midfield, and his tough tackling ways earning him the admiration of many clubs across Europe.
At the same time, Manchester United were looking to replace another tough-tackler in Roy Keane and manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s attention zeroed in on Djemba-Djemba. Ferguson famously marched into the away dressing room when Nantes was playing at Old Trafford and complimented the midfielder on his display. Djemba-Djemba was only 22 when he arrived at one of the biggest clubs in the world. In hindsight, that would be a move that came too soon.
In the eighteen months that he spent at Manchester United, Djemba-Djemba disappointed with a series of unconvincing displays. It did not help that Ferguson brought him in with the stated aim of replacing one of the greatest midfielders to have played in the Premier League. To make things worse, he was tasked with replacing Keane when the latter was still at the club. Once Keane regained fitness, Djemba-Djemba struggled to get a regular run of games. The Manchester United supporters were so disappointed with his performance that they ridiculed him singing he was ‘so good they named him twice’.
Djemba-Djemba would also later admit that he was too distracted by things off the pitch – the youngster who grew up in impoverished conditions had come into money for the first time in his career and he splurged it all and was bankrupt in a few years.
His United career did have its moments though, the most memorable of them being an extra-time winner that he scored against Leeds United in the League Cup. But, eighteen months into his Red Devils career, the club decided to cut their losses and sold him to Aston Villa for £1.5 million, two less than what they had bought him for. Despite his struggles with the club, Djemba-Djemba left having won the FA Cup and the Community Shield.’
The midfielders Villa stint went even worse than the United one. After joining in January 2005, Djemba-Djemba made ten appearances during the remainder of the season. With new manager Martin O’Neil not playing him, Djemba-Djemba’s Villa career was over before it even began. The next season, he made only one more league appearance before being loaned off to Burnley. Once that stint was over, Villa terminated his contract, and the Cameroon international’s time in the Premier League had come to an end. He would never reach these heights again.
Following his departure from England, Djemba-Djemba became somewhat of a journeyman, with his first stop of being Qatari club Al-Sadd. After staying there for a year, he went to Denmark to play for Odense BK. Curiously, his first game for the Danish side was in the Intertoto Cup against this former club Aston Villa.
It was at Odense that Djemba-Djemba managed to get his career back on track, staying for four years and making more than a hundred appearances for the club. In fact, by 2010, his form was so good that he was being linked with a move back to the Premier League. He came painstakingly close to joining West Brom, but the move eventually broke down.
He left Odense in 2012 and went to Israel to play for Hapoel Tel Aviv. After a season there, he signed with Serbian side Partizan Belgrade. However, this move turned out to be disastrous with Partizan terminating his contract just five months later. He then signed with St Mirren in Scotland but ended up making only three appearances with the side.
Djemba-Djemba’s next move was to India to play in the Indian Super League. He would admit that he made a move only after a chat with former United teammate Mikael Silvestre, who was to be his teammate at Chennaiyin FC. Also playing for the Marco Materazzi-managed club was Bernard Mendy, who Djemba-Djemba had played with in Denmark. After a single season though, he left for Indonesia and then France before hanging up his boots.
Eric Djemba-Djemba had a solid career with Cameroon, playing 34 times between 2002 and 2011. He made his debut against Togo, coming on as a substitute in an African Cup of Nations match. With his national team, he won the African Cup of Nations in 2002 and made the final of the Confederations Cup in 2003.
He was on the pitch when his Cameroon teammate Marc-Vivien Foe collapsed and died, during a game against Colombia during the Confederations Cup in 2003. Djemba-Djemba has spoken about how Foe came to him during the game and mentioned that he was tired. Foe also apparently said in the team bus that winning that match was worth dying for.
Djemba-Djemba had to endure long spells out of the national team during his career. After being selected in the squad regularly till 2006, he was out of the team for two years. Similarly, after coming back to the national fold, he once again found himself out in the cold from 2009 and had to wait till 2011 to play his next game for Cameroon. Djemba-Djemba played his final international match against Congo in 2011.
Where is Eric Djemba-Djemba now?
Eric Djemba-Djemba is yet to announce his retirement and was playing in the Swiss Amateur League for FC Vallorbe-Ballaigues as of early 2020. He also appears in media, frequently commenting on the state of affairs at his former club Manchester United.
He also runs a few charities in his native Cameroon, helping orphans and at-risk children.
Did you know?
– In 2003, he made his debut for United in the same match as Christiano Ronaldo. The two became friends, and years later when Djemba-Djemba received a phone call from Ronaldo when his mother died in 2010.