Following the return of the Premier League and with it, a return to form for Manchester United, BettingApps.com spoke exclusively to former Manchester United midfielder, Eric Djemba-Djemba.
The holding midfielder spoke of the dedication that made Cristiano Ronaldo the player he is today, and how James Milner is the only other player he has seen match that work-rate off the pitch.
Djemba-Djemba also spoke of a time when Roy Keane screamed at a scared Kleberson, and that United should sign Koulibaly and splash out £100m on Kane in the summer to complete a title-winning side.
What did you make of the match against Brighton? How good were United?
The game against Brighton, it was like everybody was ready for that game, and Fernandes was absolutely unplayable. He was so good against Brighton.
Fernandes is so good in midfield for United, and to have him alongside Pogba, that is a proper midfield. They are going to play many, many games together.
Fernandes, for me, is another Paul Scholes. He can do anything with the ball, he can shoot, he can take good free kicks, he can pass, he has great technique. It’s just like having another Paul Scholes.
Would you say Fernandes is a very similar player to De Bruyne?
I cannot compare Fernandes to De Bruyne at the moment, I think that De Bruyne is slightly ahead of him, Fernandes has time on his side and I am sure that he will become an even better player than De Bruyne.
But at the moment, it’s Fernandes’ first time in England, and De Bruyne has played here for several years. If Fernandes keeps playing the way he has been, he will become an even better player.
There’s a lot of talk about Pogba and Fernandes being world class but a lack of balance. If you could sign any defensive midfielder in the world to play behind them, who would it be?
I would just play Matic behind Pogba and Fernandes. I think that Matic is the best defensive midfielder at United at the moment. I don’t think that United need to sign any other midfielder.
Pogba arrived for such a huge fee; do you think he needs to do more for United? Is there a lot more to come from Paul?
I think that Paul Pogba can still get a lot better. He still a young lad, and we can still expect better things to come from him. Pogba’s a very good player, and he needs those players around him. Now you will see, with Matic and Fernandes, Pogba will become a world-class player again. He needs them to push him, to tell him that he can do these things, to turn him into an even better player.
Would Pogba and Fernandes both have been on the bench when you were at United?
For sure! Fernandes and Pogba would definitely have been on the bench behind Keane and Scholes. Those two were amazing together. Roy Keane was like a coach, like a manager to the team.
How do you think Roy Keane would have liked Paul Pogba?
People have this image of Roy Keane. He didn’t like it in the dressing room if you were wasting time, talking too much in the dressing room or not doing enough on the pitch. He was the man who wanted to win every game more than anyone else. Ultimately, he just cared about what you were like on the pitch. He was a really nice man. He wouldn’t have cared about Pogba’s haircuts or him laughing, he would have cared about what he was like on the pitch.
Did Roy Keane ever have a go at you about performance at all?
I was a young lad. Myself, Cristiano, Darren Fletcher, Liam Miller, and he would give us all advice, but sometimes he would shout if you weren’t performing well. It was just normal if you weren’t playing well enough. Roy Keane was like a father to me at United, and to all of the young players at United.
Do you remember an instance where Roy Keane really had a go at a player?
Roy Keane had a right go at Kleberson! Kleberson looked like he didn’t want to play with his body language, and wanted to play slowly. I remember one Champions League game at Old Trafford, we went into the dressing room and Roy Keane was screaming at him! He said ‘You need to wake-up! You need to give everything, you need to tackle! Why don’t you want to want to play? You just won The World Cup! What’s happened? You need to play better!’
It was definitely scary for Kleberson. He was always smiling and was still smiling when Keane had a go at him, which would have made Keane even more angry.
Do you think that Roy Keane was one of the biggest influences on Cristiano Ronaldo’s career?
I can definitely say that Keane was hard on Ronaldo on the pitch and in training, because he wanted Ronaldo to get better, and he knew that he could get so much better, and to get to where he is now. Having someone like Keane get angry at Ronaldo has definitely helped him to become the player he has become in the long-run.
What is Ronaldo like in training – gym mad, skill-based? Was he always so obsessed with improving?
Ronaldo did everything! He would get to the training ground before everyone. He was always in the gym, the swimming pool, running after training. He went to the gym every day, doing abs every time.
He practised his free-kicks every day. He was in the gym every day. He was mad!
He was always obsessed with improving. Even when he was at home he was working to improve. Even at home, he would focus on eating nice and healthly food. I would go round and eat with him at his house, as his mum would cook food, or he would come to my house and I would cook food for him.
There wasn’t anything to his lifestyle outside of football. He was all about his training and his good food, which was perfect.
Did Ronaldo struggle when he came over to England?
Not at all, I think because all he was concerned about was playing football, and that is exactly what he did. It definitely helped because his mum was there, but he was just so focussed on playing football that he didn’t struggle at all.
What was it like to play next to a superstar, in Cristiano Ronaldo?
Oh my God, it was just amazing to play next to Ronaldo. It was just a joy to watch. And to have Giggsy, Scholesy, Keane, Ferdinand, Van Nistelrooy; it was just a dream come true to play alongside such amazing players.
What was it like to play with James Milner at Villa – how good a professional is he?
James was actually just like Cristiano Ronaldo; he was just working everyday. Working, working and then working some more. He had a similar thought process and lifestyle to Ronaldo, where he was 100% dedicated to football.
Do you think that United are now in a place where they can challenge for the Premier League title again next season?
I think that Liverpool were just too good this season. But I think Man U are in a position to challenge for the Premier League next season, with Pogba back to full fitness, Fernandes playing so well and Martial, Rashford and Greenwood scoring the goals. I think United are ready to challenge again next year.
Are there any other players that you would love to see join Manchester United in the summer?
I would love to see Koulibaly come in to the defence, I think he would make a really big impact on the team. And I would love to see one more tinker in the Van Nistelrooy mould come in. Someone who can score the goals, who can bring everyone into the play and someone who knows the league.
Are there any strikers that you would like to see United sign?
Unfortunately I think the perfect striker for United is at Liverpool. Roberto Firmino would be the perfect striker for United, but they will never get him. If United were willing to spend so much on Martial, they should definitely go and spend £100million on Harry Kane. He would be worth it.
Jack Grealish of Aston Villa is linked closely with United, but is he good enough, given that Pogba and Fernandes would both play in the same attacking midfield positions as him?
I think that Fernandes and Pogba are both a lot better than him, so he would be joining as a substitute. He would struggle to start over Rashford, Martial or Greenwood as well, but he would definitely be a good signing. I think that it’s more important to bring in a world class striker though.
You played with Solskjaer, so what he’s like behind the scenes. Did he always look like he’d be a manager?
You could always tell he would be a manager, the way he was quietly observing and taking everything in. Now he has the good set of young players that he needs, just give him a little bit of time and he will do a good job.