When people talk about Sir Alex Ferguson’s transfer record, which has seen the club bring in some fantastically talented players, the conversation will always turn to the flops. Eric Djemba-Djemba is always one of the first names to be mentioned.
Now 32-years-old and playing for Partizan Belgrade, Djemba-Djemba has given an interview with The Guardian reflecting on his time at United.
“It was a big achievement,” he said. “Even if you are from an OK family in Africa, life can sometimes be difficult. I have 10 brothers and sisters, I was the No9 [and] we had a house with four bedrooms. My first training at Carrington, though … I had to pinch myself. I was training with Van Nistelrooy, Giggs – Ryan Giggs is an unbelievable player, fantastic – Keane, Paul Scholes. It was: Wow!”
The highlight of his time at United came on October 29th 2003 when he played against Leeds United in the League Cup. The game finished 2-2 and went in to extra-time. With just three minutes remaining before a penalty shoot-out, Djemba-Djemba won the game for United.
“Oh my God, you remember that time!” he said, when reminded of the goal. “It was so nice. In my house I have a picture from when I scored against Leeds in the Carling Cup. It was in extra time and I scored from a corner. And I still have a picture in my head from when I go into the dressing room after the game. There was Alex Ferguson. He was smiling. A big smile, with his glasses on. He was so happy.”
A year and a half later, Djemba-Djemba left for Aston Villa, after making just 20 appearances in the league.
“I was not being [selected] in many games and it was difficult,” he said. “Roy Keane came back from injury, I wanted to play games and I had a talk with the gaffer. He said: ‘No problem. If you have [another] team and you want to continue to play, that’s not a problem.'”
At Villa, he played even fewer league games than he did at United, was loaned out to Burnley, then moved to the Far East. He doesn’t have any regrets though.
“Life is not complicated. Manchester is a great team and everyone wants to play for Manchester. But if they don’t give you the chance and you have the opportunity to play for teams that want you, you should go and enjoy. It’s football.”