As far as Manchester United legends go, no individual lit up a football game quite like King Eric. Even to this day, the chants of his name can be heard coming from all corners of Old Trafford, in honour of the club’s greatest foreign export. That’s right, Eric Djemba-Djemba. They used to say he was so good they named him twice. And it was easy to see why for the player once hailed as the ‘Next Roy Keane’. Comparisons to the Irishman were some way off; not because Keane was the better player, but quite the opposite. Whatever Keane achieved at the club, Djemba-Djemba went one step further and emulated him. In fairness to the one-time winner of the African Cup of Nations with Cameroon, he could have done so with his arms tied, blindfolded. Only one other United great, Dong Fangzhou, has come close to reaching the lofty heights of this gifted, talented and decorated Old Trafford legend.
Having sensed the sarcasm long ago, it is worth knowing that it has emerged in the last few days that Djemba-Djemba may be on his way back to the Premier League, being linked with West Bromwich Albion. Who saw that coming after his disastrous spell over here? When he left Manchester United in 2005 after two disappointing years, what exactly happened to him? ManUtd24 investigates his rather uneventful career after Old Trafford…
Historically, players who have failed to cut it at the club have gone on to better things. Diego Forlan, Kleberson and Juan Veron all prospered after leaving United, such was their reincarnation that they were all chosen for their respective countries in the foregoing World Cup in South Africa. Of course, they were good players before and during their United stint, but all three had difficulty settling in to the fast-paced English game. Indeed, Djemba-Djemba was no different, his performances for French club Nantes led to a move to Old Trafford in the first place. After his unsuccessful stint, he moved on to Aston Villa where, in all truth, it was an even bigger nightmare.
One must wonder how the likes of Gavin McCann and Steven Davis were above him in the pecking order over at Villa; a nutshell, if you like, of his dreadful spell at Villa Park. A loan move to Burnley followed, then back again to Martin O’Neill’s team where his contract was soon terminated. This was a failed and fruitless period in his footballing career and which made his United career look somewhat successful.
Thankfully, the unfortunate run in England ended soon. It did take a turn for the better at Qatar SC (…in Qatar) where he must have arrived with little or no confidence. Reasonable success followed and minutes on the pitch came more and more frequently. This stint in the Middle East did however come to an abrupt end. The story of his career, really, although one would think his next move was a slight improvement in the sense of quality of football. His new home was in Denmark, with Odense Boldklub, where he at least had a chance to face his former club Aston Villa on his debut in the Intertoto Cup competition.
But, as the title suggests, his spell at the Danish club petered out into the uneventful. Playing for a club that enjoys little success anyway, Djemba-Djemba will surely a welcome a move back to the Premier League with West Brom. And best of luck to him, after all he was a United great…
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The blades of the rumour mill have stopped turning for the moment. Nemanja Vidic’s often-talked about future at Manchester United has been put into doubt on a number of occasions, but the news that the Serbian centre-half has reached an agreement over a new contract is greeted by the sighs of relief over Manchester and beyond.
The transformation from being a decent player to a world-class player is credit to the club and Sir Alex Ferguson, the manner in which he has been nurtured the reason for his emergence as one of the world’s best defenders and why his current asking price is about four times the fee he had originally signed for (though to be about £7m). Not that the asking price will have to be mentioned any time soon.
What he has brought to the club ever since his arrival from Spartak is great defensive stability and presence at the back, and has successfully created a formidable defensive partnership with Rio Ferdinand. While the previous season had been somewhat spoilt by injuries, the development of the Serbian has been evident since his arrival. Much like Patrice Evra, incidentally another of Fergie’s ‘inspired’ signings, he took a while to settle but rapidly grew of age. He’s been a key member of United’s title winning teams, and long may that continue.
And he can take comfort of playing in the best back four in the country today. United, despite their league shortcomings, conceded the least goals last season and the previous (and the year before that). The season of 08/09, United managed to go 14 consecutive games without conceding, a feat never managed before in the modern game. While much credit will go to Edwin van der Sar for his sterling work between the goalposts, Vidic was ever-apparent in recording the feat. It is likely that Vidic will officially sign his contract soon, and when he does he can finally look to the near future without any doubts over his career at Old Trafford, and aspire and continue to win more silverware. £7m? What a bargain that was Fergie…
After a disappointing campaign last year, much of the reaction from the press was rather knee-jerk. It was thought that for United to really mount a good challenge the following season, that they had to follow the suit of neighbours Manchester City and spend. Yet Sir Alex has come out recently and was quoted to saying he’s happy with his current crop and that he is unlikely to spend in the summer window which has so far been crammed with activity.
Manchester United are no longer the big-money spenders of the English game, that has been for a while now, the tag now belonging to Chelsea and City. It doesn’t help that the club have been plunged into massive debt, so it is sensible to focus on the club’s current players and youth to continue progress. A big signing like Wesley Sneijder certainly wouldn’t help United get out of the red, a fee of around £30m and weekly wages of £100k wouldn’t exactly help the club out of this rather perilous financial situation.
The usual suspects the Sunday papers seem to link us with such as Sneijder, Mesut Özil among others are sure to get fans excited, but it begs the question – do United really need them? I would say no, and I’m thinking Sir Alex will agree. There are some top quality players in Europe and indeed around the world, but financially United cannot afford them. They don’t come cheap, that’s for sure. If United were not in this situation, would they splash the clash on some of Europe’s stars? I’m suspecting they would.
Another reason, however, of not to add to the squad lies in the fact that he believes the players at Old Trafford are already good enough. The truth is most positions are covered, and a new signing may only mean more unwanted competition, not to mention affecting the development of the younger players who ought to be given a chance. Some would argue that the team is ageing and although that is true, it doesn’t mean that they are not good enough to play top-flight football.
The likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes still have a lot to offer despite their ageing legs, having enjoyed good season last year despite United falling short of the title. In terms of players, United have the numbers. There is plenty of backup in their defence with Evans and Smalling as 3rd and 4th choice centre backs, as is the case in midfield and up front where they have no less than seven forwards hoping to make an impact this season.
The feeling right now is that United lack the big-name players and must add to it in order to regain their league crown. The club is littered with talent, some are established members of the team and others polishing off in the reserve team. The fact that I’d like Fergie to keep faith in his current squad is to allow good development of his younger players. Some may disagree with the notion that the current players are not good enough, indeed just the Carling Cup to show from last season’s efforts, but I’m thinking the likes of the more-established Darren Fletcher and Nani could get better this time around, making that transformation into world-class players. What’s your viewpoint? Do United need to add to their squad or is it fine as it is?
As the new season looms large, there is great anticipation around Old Trafford that the youth of today can become the stars of tomorrow and finally blossom into United greats much like the class of ’92 had done many moons ago. And the signs are there that the current bunch can do just that and even emulate the luminaries of ’92 which consisted of the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham among many others.
Like Giggs, United have another local lad in Danny Welbeck, who much is expected of and is just one of the of the many homegrown talent at the club hoping to become permanent fixtures in the first team. There are plenty of other names, too. Tom Cleverley, Corry Evans, Ravel Morrison, Matthew James and Reece Brown are dead certainties to make the promotion into the first team.
The foreign talent is there too; Carrington has become somewhat of a polishing ground for the best youngsters around the globe. Gerard Pique and Guiseppe Rossi became the players they are today and more recently Federico Macheda has come leaps and bounds since his arrival from Lazio youth academy. It is, however, Welbeck and Macheda who have particularly caught the imagination.
But as bleak and pessimistic as the blog title sounds, the reality is that United’s two most exciting prospects may not get the game-time they so badly need in order to develop. What Sir Alex is so great at is nurturing the youth and transforming them into big stars like he’s done in recent years, but despite his comments promising that the two will have a chance to prove themselves this season, it is difficult to see how.
Just how many forwards should a team have? United have seven and it is unclear where Macheda and Welbeck are in the pecking order. There’s also Diouf, who has looked decent in United colours so far, along with Rooney, Berbatov and the latest acquisition Javier Hernandez. The 4-5-1 formation deployed by Fergie where Rooney plays as a lone striker means six others on the sidelines. Sir Alex is spoilt with talent, but just how he’ll able to use it remains to be seen.
It may just be the domestic cups where these two fine players get to express their talent, but waiting a little while longer to get some good game-time is a problem in terms of development for these teenagers. Who knows? It could just be a good thing. Two players aiming to prove their point scoring as many goals possible when they get the chance? Who knows? The competition at Old Trafford is healthy, yet rather unhealthy if you think about it…
Much of Wayne Rooney’s good form last season was put down to his role as lone striker. The 4-5-1 formation deployed by Sir Alex Ferguson saw Rooney enjoying the freedom to roam in the final third, with the majority of his 32 goals being scored in that position.
Fergie still has a decision to make, however. Does he stick with the 4-5-1* going into the new season or does he turn his back on that and opt once again for the 4-4-2, a system in which United were consistently inconsistent with last year.
When United took on Celtic in Toronto on Friday (or Saturday), United lined up in a very orthodox 4-4-2 with Dimitar Berbatov partnering Mame Diouf up front, and seeing as Rooney didn’t feature in United’s 3-1 victory, United are likely to continue experiment with the 4-4-2 throughout their American tour. Indeed, Rooney will only be a spectator for the remainder of this tour, as Sir Alex is keen for his talisman to get some well-earned rest in the aftermath of the World Cup. That is if Rooney’s chalet in Barbados includes MUTV.
Another reason to why Fergie may be tempted to go for the two up front as opposed to the one is the number of attacking options he has up his sleeve. United fans alike will hope Berbatov can finally find some consistency and his impressive performance against Celtic is proof that the Bulgarian can flourish if he finds his confidence. This was only a friendly game, but his all-round performance of a goal and two assists was worthy of praise earned by Sir Alex post-match. Anything other than a 4-4-2 will mean Berbatov will have to make do with the bench. Although, since he joined United, Berbatov’s form certainly is not exactly a convincing case to play with the two up forward.
And then he has Michael Owen, Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez and Diouf to choose from too. Playing the lone man will mean these talented bunch will have little game time, possibly fighting it out for a starting place only in the domestic cups. Although you would argue that what the 4-5-1 has done so well is give United that balance and presence in midfield. Paul Scholes looked in imperious form playing deep and pulling the strings while Fletcher and Carrick were able to pass opponents out of the game, and in the process suffocate the play. This system seems the better option in terms of dominating play, which is most important in getting the results, but what it does is limit, or prevent, United’s other forwards from developing into better players. Having seven forwards at the club, with six having a point to prove, is as much healthy competition as unhealthy.
Sir Alex’s reasoning behind his preferred formation, the 4-5-1, is that it allows his side to control the game. In a quote dated back to earlier this year, he says the following: “The idea behind the 4-5-1 is that you can control the midfield and keep possession of the ball – that’s always your aim when you use that formation. I believe the team that has possession of the ball has more opportunities to win the match. As for the 4-4-2, there is more emphasis in that formation placed on playing the ball forward and usually you use the two traditional wingers.”
“Playing 4-5-1 requires a lot of patience but this team certainly has that in abundance,” he adds. “Some people say you have more chance of scoring by playing 4-4-2, and in some cases that might be right, but if you score and you’re playing 4-5-1, you then have a great opportunity to open the game up because the opposition then have to take risks.”
And he may be right – the 4-5-1 suits the fluid counter-attacking football that United play. You feel that Rooney, United’s best player last season, prefers the 4-5-1 formation more, and if it gets the best out of him Sir Alex will continue to play it. The use of attacking wingers such as Nani, or in the past Ronaldo, could also determine whether the system is instead a 4-3-3 as opposed to 4-5-1. The 4-4-2 is a far more simplistic and orthodox system, maintaining a constant shape.
It’s an interesting debate; one that has had fans’ on forums split on opinion and probably in some cases, driven married couples apart. I do prefer the 4-5-1 formation to the 4-4-2 but both have their benefits and detriments. I’m sure you have an opinion, too – why not share it by leaving a comment?
Note: *As in 4-5-1, you could interpret it as 4-3-3/4-2-3-1. For the purpose of the blog, I refer to it as 4-5-1 mainly because, as in the above quotes, Fergie describes it as such. You can’t argue with Sir Alex, now can you?!