Former Cameroon international and Manchester United midfielder decides to hang up his boots in an exclusive interview with BritishGambler.co.uk
Following the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United, British Gambler.co.uk spoke exclusively to his close friend and former teammate, Eric Djemba-Djemba. Whilst the two players signed for Manchester United in the same transfer window of 2003, Ronaldo’s re-signing and second debut for United this weekend coincides with the official announcement of his friend Eric Djemba-Djemba’s official retirement from football.
In a career that saw him play 34 times for his country, Djemba-Djemba has made the decision to finish his time in football, bowing out with his last team being Swiss side Football Club Vallorbe-Ballaigues. Having played 20 times for Manchester United and make over 300 career appearances, the midfielder spoke of his love for his time at United, but the difficulty and disappointment that came with it, and the mental health impacts leaving Old Trafford had on him.
Djemba-Djemba is now focusing on his own academy in Cameroon, and looking forward to heading to Old Trafford to sit in the stands and watch his dear friend Cristiano play. He also predicts that the ‘best player in the world’ returning to Old Trafford, will see United lift the Premier League title again this season.
Are you still playing football now?
I can say to you today, that I’m officially retiring from playing football.Eric Djemba-Djemba
I have an academy in Cameroon and I am going to focus on trying to help educate the young players there on how to become a footballer, and how to build a successful career as a footballer. Today, I’m stopping playing football.
Ronaldo is back playing at Manchester United – how happy are you to see him back at Manchester United?
Oh my God, I am so, so happy to see Ronaldo back at Manchester United!
I’m mostly happy for the fans because they have been through a hard time for a few years, but now it’s like their son has come home! Alex Ferguson is the Dad, and Ronaldo is the son.
I’m so happy for Cristiano. I’ll be taking a plane to come home for a game to sit in Old Trafford just to watch him play. But this time I’ll be sat in the stands watching him play, and remember all of the good times of when we got to play together.
You told me that you were good friends with Cristiano – do you remember the first time you met him?
The first time I met Cristiano was when we played Sporting Lisbon in America, and I remember he was wearing number 17. After the game we all sat in the changing room saying we wanted to sign him because he gave us such a hard time. He was only 17 years old and it was ridiculously how good he was. At full time we sat in the changing room and just said to Alex Ferguson;
‘We want this guy. We need this guy’.
I remember coming up against him and trying to kick him, but I couldn’t because he was just so fast. I couldn’t even pull his shirt, he was so fast. I tried to kick him, but he was just too quick and I couldn’t get him! So I was so happy when we signed him so I didn’t have to chase him again!
Did you ever do a gym session with Cristiano?
Every day, he would arrive first so that he could go to the gym before training, then after training he’d want to go to the gym again! Sometimes I’d say ‘Cristiano, let’s go back home’, because sometimes we’d drive to training together and I’d drive him or he would drive me, and we’d go to eat at a restaurant – he introduced me to Nandos, and we’d go and have food together – he loved the chicken there, and I’d have spicy chicken.
What else did you guys like to do off the pitch together?
We’d often watch movies together, we liked to eat together, and went shopping together either to Deansgate of The Trafford Centre, and just be tourists in Manchester! We’d watch games together at his house and we’d see his mum, dad and sister at the house.
We didn’t play video games as I didn’t know how to play, but as much football as we would watch together, I never saw him play FIFA on the PlayStation. We’d watch loads of Premier League football at either mine or his house.
Would you hide your diamond earrings from Roy Keane?
Roy Keane didn’t like our earrings – he was the protector. When we were both young players, he could give you a hard time in the dressing room or in a game if you weren’t running. He just wanted people to give everything, and if you were wearing an earring like me or Cristiano, he could give you a hard time for it if you weren’t playing at the highest level or if you weren’t giving everything.
Apparently all the fouls on Ronaldo in training wouldn’t be given to toughen him up. Do you remember that?
I do remember that and it’s true. No fouls would be given against Cristiano in training. That was a big part of getting him to become the player he is today.
There was talk about Ronaldo might go to Man City – do you think that he would ever have joined City, or he always loved Man Utd too much?
He loves Manchester United too much to have ever joined Manchester City. I can say that hand on heart, never would he join Man City. In football you never know, but I know him and he wouldn’t have joined City. Just imagine what would happen if he went to City – it would be unbelievable, the fans would want him dead! But I’m so happy he’s back home at Old Trafford.
Do you think that Manchester United can win the league this year now they have Ronaldo?
Now they have Ronaldo, the whole team can improve and he will raise the standards of the whole team. Ronaldo cannot win the Premier League on his own, but Varane is a very good signing as well, and United have a very good team to try and win the league. If I had to pick one team to win the league this year, I’d say Manchester United.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United, this is the best team and the best squad that they have had.
Ronaldo can have a huge influencer on the team in raising the standards, and I think Manchester United are going to have a great season.
How do you feel about your time at Manchester United?
I loved my team at Manchester United. But it was disappointing, it was difficult. Everybody who has a career has a chance, and I have to say I was lucky to play with all of the players that I got to play with, and I loved having the experience of playing with those players at United.
Do you think that if you had more time at Manchester United, and you could have been a great midfielder for Manchester United?
Yes, I think I could have played a big role if I had more time, but that is life. But today, I’m happy. I’ll say thank you to Alex Ferguson every single day, because he changed my life. When I get on a plane back to watch Ronaldo, I’d love to see Ferguson to give him a hug. I saw him in Denmark in 2011 when I was playing there, and gave him a big hug when I saw him.
Was it hard when you left Manchester United?
Yes it was hard leaving Manchester United, and it definitely affected my mental health. I left because I didn’t get much time playing, so I went to Aston Villa, but it was so difficult to leave Manchester because United was like my second family. They gave me everything. They gave me my career, so it was definitely difficult having to leave United.
Manchester United v Newcastle this weekend – what’s your prediction?
United will win. I reckon 2-0, and Cristiano will score – if he plays, he will score. I know him and he loves the challenge, so he will do everything to score. And that is why he is the best player in the world because he never quits and never fails when a challenge is put in front of him. I’d have Cristiano in my team over Messi, because he is so driven and he has the mindset of a champion. He’s got 5 Ballon D’ors because he has worked and fought every day. Since he joined Manchester United, you can see from day one how hard he worked, so it’s no surprise he’s the best player in the world. Newcastle will need to watch out!
How good was St James Park, and how good were the Newcastle fans?
I remember playing there and the fans were amazing at Newcastle, and I remember them having a great ground. Always remember playing against Shearer, and it was always a good game against Newcastle.
Was there any one team that you didn’t like playing against?
If there was one team that I didn’t like playing against, it was Liverpool, because it was always such a battle, every single minute of the game. It was a ground with a really fiery atmosphere.
But for me, it would be even worse to see Manchester City win the Premier League than Liverpool winning it – I know they’re both massive rivals – but it’s so hard for Manchester United fans to see that they are the second best team in Manchester, behind Man City.