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A new chapter is about to begin in storied career . . .

IF Eric Djemba-Djemba can play even half as well as he talks, then St Mirren have landed themselves a real star.

Eric Djemba-Djemba is grateful to St Mirren for offering him a chance to rebuild his career. Picture: SNS
Eric Djemba-Djemba is grateful to St Mirren for offering him a chance to rebuild his career. Picture: SNS

The announcement that the one-time Manchester United midfielder had pitched up in Paisley to sign with Danny Lennon's side until the end of the season made headline news all across Britain. It has been six years since Djemba-Djemba left these shores to further his career in Qatar but his unusual name and memories of his struggle to live up to his billing as "the next Roy Keane" mean he remains a character still familiar and of interest to most football fans.

And what a character he is. Now 32 years old and a well-travelled man following subsequent stints in Denmark, Israel and latterly Serbia, Djemba-Djemba views life from the perspective of someone who has seen and done it all.

There are no regrets over the hype that followed his arrival at United from Nantes for £3.5m, nor at the way his career at Old Trafford fizzled out as he failed to live up to Sir Alex Ferguson's expectations. Instead the man from Cameroon looks back at the experiences garnered by his younger self and considers himself lucky to have gone through it all.

Sure, there are some regrets but nothing that seems to have left any lasting, detrimental effect. He sits in front of a packed room at St Mirren Park and seems a man wholly at ease with himself, answering questions with honesty, candour, warmth and no little humour. The glint in his diamond earring is matched only by the one in his eye as he talks about the highs and lows of a tumultuous career.

"It was a good time and it was a bad time," he says of the Manchester United days. "I have very good memories of being there. I was too young, just 21, when I joined Manchester United. It was difficult to replace Roy Keane at that age. But I trained and played with great players like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, and Keane.

"I don't regret [Ferguson's comments]. When someone says something like that you have to take it or else you won't grow up. If Sir Alex took me from Nantes because his idea was to replace Roy Keane, well then that was difficult for me. Roy is a legend. When I went there he was 35 and had 350 games there - it was difficult to replace that. But I learned so much from that time."

Djemba-Djemba would go on to prove his worth during four years with Odense, even impressing Ferguson. "Three years ago I saw Sir Alex in Denmark. I was nominated to be the player of the year in the Danish league. Peter Schmeichel invited him over to the ceremony. We had a good talk and he said he'd have been happy to sign me at the age I was then - 29. I was just too young for United when I signed."

Then there were the stories suggesting he lived something of a playboy lifestyle during his time at United, with the player said to have owned 10 different cars and 30 separate bank accounts. Djemba-Djemba admitted he had been "naive" back then but denied some of the tales of excess.

"You know, the headlines say one thing, reality is another thing," he adds. "They said I had 10 cars. But you cannot have 10 cars! It was a rumour at the time, but it wasn't true. Where would I put 10 cars? It wasn't that big a house. They said I had 30 bank accounts as well. Come on, nobody has 30 bank accounts. All that stuff was difficult for me. When I read that I was upset."

It almost led to him hanging up his boots prematurely. "My mum died three years ago. But back then she was in Cameroon and I said to her, 'I need you to come here.' So we got her a visa after 10 days and I translated it all for her. She had no hesitation. She said, 'stop playing football now. Please.' I said, 'no, I can't. It's my life, I like it.' But that was a difficult time for me."

Now, though he is in a better place. He has come to St Mirren for regular football and to hopefully also reignite his chances of representing Cameroon at this summer's World Cup finals. His arrival might be considered to be a downturn in fortunes but a smile as wide as the neighbouring River Cart suggests a genuine enthusiasm at the start of a new challenge.

"I did not come here because I play only for money. I will give everything to this club because they have given me the opportunity to come back," says Djemba-Djemba. "Humanity is very important to me. If I finish here tomorrow I want to be able to come back and have everyone greet me."

n Eric Djemba-Djemba was speaking to promote Topps' Family Day at St Mirren today.

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