On August 16 2003, a pair of youthful substitutes made their Manchester United debuts as the Red Devils took on Bolton in their opening game of the 2003/04 Premier League season.
The first of the duo to grace the Old Trafford pitch was Cristiano Ronaldo. The second? Eric Djemba-Djemba. It’s fair to say that the careers of the two went in very different directions almost immediately.
This weekend, five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo is expected to make his second debut for United against Newcastle. The 36-year-old returns to the club where he made his name as one of the most decorated players in the history of the game.
Those kinds of words, though, will never be thrown around about Djemba-Djemba. The 40-year-old called time his career this week – something he apparently felt was necessary despite not having played a competitive match in six years.
“I can say to you today, that I’m officially retiring from playing football, the former Cameroonian international told BritishGambler.co.uk, per the Daily Star.
“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.”
Djemba-Djemba was recruited by Sir Alex Ferguson from French side Nantes, with the hope that he might emerge as a successor to then-United captain Roy Keane.
Those lofty expectations never came close to being met as the player only managed 20 league appearances for the club, before being sold to Aston Villa for £1.5 million in 2005.
Far from rejuvenating his fortunes, Djemba-Djemba’s move to Villa Park signalled the start of what would become a nomadic career.
Across the next decade, he signed with no less than eight clubs, including spells with Burnley, St. Mirren, Qatar SC, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Partizan Belgrade. His most successful stint came with Danish side Odense, for who he made 102 league appearances.
Giggs, Suarez, Aguero, Drogba – Legacy Ranking Show (The Football Terrace)
While his 18-month stay at Old Trafford is not fondly recalled by most, Djemba-Djemba still has positive memories of his time in Manchester.
“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.
“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.”
Can you answer these 12 questions about Cristiano Ronaldo’s first spell at Manchester United?
Djemba-Djemba also paid tribute to his former United boss. He did, however, insist that he could have achieved more at the club if given more of an opportunity.
“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.
“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.”
Capped 34 times by his country between 2002 and 2011, Djemba-Djemba was last seen playing in the fifth-tier of Swiss football for Football Club Vallorbe-Ballaigues in 2016 – the same year that former teammate Ronaldo won his fourth Ballon d’Or trophy.