17 March, 2008

Anyone Redjemba-Redjemba Eric?

Want advice on how to go from playing in a World Cup at the age of 20 to defining mediocrity for a club in the Middle East at the age of 26? Well just ask Eric Djemba-Djemba, as having been declared bankrupt last September, the Cameroon international and ex-Manchester United midfielder has now found himself earning £15,000 a month playing for Qatar SC in Doha, Qatar. Still not bad eh, but how has someone with such promise found himself in such dire financial and professional straits?

Having comprehensively failed during two seasons at United, and then subsequently at Aston Villa and Burnley in this country too, Djemba-Djemba was left with virtually nothing last year and was forced to head out into the desert as his last chance to resurrect a career that was heading off-the-rails almost as soon as it started. His is actually quite a tragic tale of a life shattered by bad advice and financial wastefulness; a cautionary lesson to any young footballer suddenly finding himself with excess cash.

Djemba-Djemba made his name first with French top-flight side Nantes, where he quickly emerged as a competitive midfielder, but as soon as he began to earn decent wages his money problems started. Perhaps too impressionable and naïve to the cut-throat ways of the world, he found himself pretty stranded and without anyone close to offer decent advice. In retrospect, Djemba-Djemba himself admits that he should’ve been more sensible, but “African footballers tend to give all their money to their compatriots. I even helped complete unknowns. I was young, I was cocky, I took no account of anything. Nowadays, I say no.” This innocence that was to cost him dear is summed up by his first coach at Nantes, Guy Hillion: “He was touching. He used to get ecstatic about everything. One of the first things he said when he arrived was ‘I don't understand this. In France, I see money coming out of the walls.’ He was talking about cash machines.” When you hear something like this it makes you feel that surely someone at Nantes should’ve stepped in and just looked after the poor kid; he was young, a long way from home, and in an environment famous for eating people just like him up without taking breath.

Following a £2.5million move to United, club sources revealed that he would often splash out large sums of money arranging for large items, often even furniture, to be sent to Africa bizarrely, presumably to furnish friends and relatives’ houses. A couple of years later, while at Aston Villa, things seemed to have changed though, and he had very much become victim to self-indulgence and hedonism, all without any hint of responsibility. A Villa source told the Daily Fascist: “ He (Eric) drove one of the biggest cars at the club, like a Hummer. People expected one of the club's really big stars to get out of it, but it was Eric. He would wear designer clothes and look flash, even though underneath he was not.”

Djemba-Djemba’s agent Christophe Mongay also spoke to the Nazi today, describing the star’s money problems as so bad that while at Old Trafford, he relied solely on his appearance fee and win bonus to get by as every other penny received went straight to creditors as loan repayments. At his peak Djemba-Djemba was amazingly running a fleet of ten 4 x 4 vehicles and had more than 30 different bank accounts for some reason. Mongay said:

“When he arrived at Manchester United, I decided to take over the running of his accounts. It used to take me four hours a day! At United he was earning about £75,000 basic per month. But every penny was going straight to loan repayments. He was having to live on bonuses and extras.”

It’s quite baffling why exactly Djemba-Djemba felt the need to have ten cars in the first place, let alone ten jeeps. Perhaps he was doing airport runs in his spare-time to make a bit of extra coin? Or maybe it was even an elaborate prostitution ring, aimed specifically at those clients who liked off-roading and dogging? 30 bank accounts too, how did that happen? It’s almost as if literally every wage cheque went into a new account. Either that he actually replied to every one of those spam e-mails you get about releasing foreign diplomatic funds, and thought he’d dodge tax by setting up a string of illicit holdings.

Jokes aside, it’s a pretty tragic tale of what this business can do to a new talent, and as signings get younger and younger, and wages get higher and higher, I’m sure Mr Djemba-Djemba won’t be the last one left with his dream in tatters.