The A-Z of forgotten football heroes: D - Eric Djemba-Djemba

The Cameroon international arrived at Old Trafford with the reputation that he was "so good they named him twice".

The A-Z of forgotten football heroes: D - Eric Djemba-Djemba
Everything looked so promising for Djemba-Djemba when he won the 2003 FA Community Shield on his Man United debut (photo: Getty Images/Matthew Peters)

More of an enigma than a footballing hero, Eric Djemba-Djemba will go down in Manchester United folklore as a rare error of judgement from the infamous Sir Alex Ferguson.

Once considered to be a long-term replacement for Roy Keane, Djemba-Djemba now plays for Swiss fifth division side FC Vallorbe-Ballaigues after plying his trade in no less than ten countries across the globe.

A promising start for the industrial midfielder

Eric Daniel Djemba-Djemba established himself with French club FC Nantes between 2001 and 2003. A string of uncompromising performances in the engine room kick-started his career and he represented Cameroon in the 2002 World Cup at the tender age of 21.

The Indomitable Lions narrowly missed out on qualification from the group stages but went on to win the African Cup of Nations in the same year. An impressive couple of seasons saw them finish runners-up to France in the 2003 Confederations Cup with Djemba-Djemba a key member of the squad.

"Eric is on a different planet"

With club captain Roy Keane entering the twilight of his career, Sir Alex Ferguson parted company with £3.5 million to sign the central midfielder. A robust tackle on Sol Campbell in his debut against Arsenal during the 2003 FA Community Shield grabbed the attention of United fans, particularly as it upset rival manager Arsene Wenger.

However, that was as good as it got for the Red Devils as Djemba-Djemba barely scraped 20 appearances in a disappointing 18 months at Old Trafford. Humorously dubbed the man who was "so good they named him twice" by United fans, Djemba-Djemba battled with cash flow problems despite earning £75,000 per week.

His agent, Christophe Mongai, admitted “Eric is on a different planet. He simply has no notion of money. At one point, he had 30 different bank accounts and there was a time when he owned 10 4x4s".

Mongai added "I decided to take over the running of his accounts. It took me four hours a day. Every penny was going straight to loan repayments and he was having to live on bonuses and extras.”

A rollercoaster peak period

In January 2005, Aston Villa signed Djemba-Djemba in a £1.5 million deal. Yet the midfielder struggled to break into the first team under Martin O'Neill and was loaned out to Burnley.

After making less than 30 appearances for both clubs combined in the next year and a half, Djemba-Djemba had his contract terminated and was declared bankrupt before embarking on a global adventure.

The first stop was Qatar where the energetic enigma regained his confidence after a strong season with Qatar SC. His performances gained interest from Danish club Odense BK who snapped him up on a three-year contract.

Djemba-Djemba immediately recaptured the form that he previously showed at Nantes, even assisting a goal with a sock. After a successful campaign, the more technically confident African was nominated for the SAS Liga Player of the Year.

The red mist descends

Yet 2010 proved to be a year of red mist for Djemba-Djemba as his career began to take another downward turn. West Bromwich Albion reportedly agreed a £1 million deal for the midfielder, before it was suggested the Baggies tried to negotiate a cheaper deal after growing concerned about a knee problem. The deal was cancelled and Djemba-Djemba blasted the English club. The 29-year old then missed out on a place in the Cameroon World Cup squad after falling out with the manager.

After over 100 appearances for Odense, Djemba-Djemba was made surplus to requirements and he found himself back on the road. Israel was the next stop as he played just 28 games for Hapoel Tel Aviv. He then lasted just five months with Serbian side Partizan Belgrade.

Three appearances for St Mirren's "biggest signing"

In February 2014, Djemba-Djemba found himself back in the United Kingdom with St Mirren. Manager Danny Lennon described him as "the club's biggest signing" before making just three appearances and being released just four months later.

Djemba-Djemba has since played in India for Chennaiyn FC and Indonesia for Persebaya Surabaya and Persipa Padalarang. He then returned to France with fifth tier side Châteaubriant before joining FC Vallorbe-Ballaigues as he continues his quest to be the inaugural football journeyman.

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This is the fourth installment of a weekly series, 'The A-Z of Forgotten Football Heroes'. Catch up with last week's entry for C, Grégory Coupet, here.


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