Why it makes sense
For The Club
Forget all the “so crap they named him twice” nonsense from his days in British football. He was playing for Manchester United and Aston Villa in the world’s most expensive league. It was always going to be a struggle coming from Nantes and starring in that environment and Eric Djemba-Djemba, as many other players have done in the past, didn’t live up to the hype. That does not mean that he’ll be a failure in Scottish football even if it is ten years later. In fact, away from the elite quality of the Premier League, the midfielder actually fared pretty well in his other stop on these shores, playing on loan at Burnley for a few months. The club even tried to sign him when he was released from Villa but couldn’t afford his wages.
Since then he played over 100 games for Odense – the club which knocked Motherwell out of the Europa League a few years back with Djemba-Djemba in the line-up – and was once nominated for Danish player of the year. He has real quality in his past and even his last club, Partizan Belgrade, are a higher standard than the majority of this league.
Tactically, the more we look at this deal the more we like it. We initially considered it to be nothing more than an instance of where a club brings in a marquee signing regardless of whether the team actually needs him or not. Then we thought they were perhaps gambling £1,200 a week just to get a better version of Jim Goodwin. The captain has performed well in the role of defensive midfielder, acting as a spoiler to the opponent’s attacking intentions, even though he does receive his share of criticism for a brutish style. Djemba-Djemba would add a technical dimension to the position and replacing one with the other would perhaps strengthen St Mirren stronger going forward while not losing any defensive solidity. To implement such a move, Lennon would have to drop his skipper. A move he is unlikely to make. Therefore it stands to reason that this heralds another tactical shift.
Lennon chopped and changed to such an extent earlier in this campaign that he had STV calling him “The Tinkerman”. Finally he settled on a 4-1-4-1 and results rapidly improved. The remaining problem was that they lacked a secondary goalscorer to Steven Thompson – the striker has scored 11 of the club’s last 21 goals in all competitions – an issue which was further exacerbated when Kenny McLean missed a month through injury. Lennon responded by signing Adam Campbell and Gregg Wylde. Inserting the new additions into the first team brought with it a fresh issue: neither was a natural fit for the 4-1-4-1. Lennon has tried experimenting but results have not improved and they are currently on a run of one win in eight matches.
What Djemba-Djemba’s signing could allow the manager to do is rearrange the squad into a 4-2-3-1 now that he has two natural defensive midfielders. There would scarcely be a more intimidating central midfield partnership than the Cameroonian and Goodwin, while it would provide a platform for three of Campbell, Wylde, McLean, Paul McGowan and John McGinn to perform on the attacking end. His presence would also allow Goodwin to concentrate fully on his defensive duties and act as an auxiliary centre back when needed.
For The Player
He just wants to play football. His release from Partizan took place on the 23rd of December and he barely featured in the first team in the months leading up to his exit. At 32 he’s at a time in his career where he can’t afford to waste almost two months of injury-free time sitting around twiddling his thumbs. Detractors of St Mirren would say he’d have been better off waiting around until a bigger club came in for him and, with all due respect to The Buddies and the Scottish top flight, the short-term contract indicates that he believes he can still play at a higher level. While such a scenario would have been ideal, it’s possible to build an entire team with players currently out of contract. There was no guarantee another club would scoop him up with sufficient time for him to play his way back into contention for a place in Cameroon’s 2014 World Cup squad.
Why It Doesn’t
For The Player
Aberdeen just lost Ryan Jack for at least two months with a hip injury, surely they would have happily welcomed in a technically proficient defensive midfielder who would cost around £20,000 to retain from now until the end of the season? He could have tried his best to sell himself to a team about to play in the national final and the amount of media attention that would bring. He’s way off the radar of Volker Finke (Cameroon’s manager) at present but that kind of national attention could have brought him back into contention for a seat on the flight to Brazil.
How this deal came about we cannot be sure. What we would presume is that his agent phoned around a number of other agents and one of them gave the tip off to Danny Lennon. Similarly, if he was willing to widen his search for a new club as far as Scotland then why not hunt around Europe for any side that may be playing on a similarly big stage?
We realise this argument is a little contrived, though we like to look at these deals from every conceivable angle. In reality beggars can’t be choosers.
For The Club
Djemba-Djemba’s past could be a source of inspiration for some of St Mirren’s younger players. Hearing about some of the heights he’s hit throughout his career could drive them on to achieve such feats themselves. Or he could take them all out to the Gala Casino in Glasgow and turn the next Paisley generation into a team full of Frank McGarveys. Every football team needs the right mix of wiser veterans able to impart wisdom and lead some of the impressionable youngsters. The concern is that Djemba-Djemba’s past – he blew a huge amount of his fortune and his agent once claimed in presumably hyperbolic fashion that he owned 10 cars and 30 bank accounts – would suggest he is not the right man to mentor the likes McGinn, Jason Naismith and Sean Kelly. Since arriving he’s made all the right noises about having put his vices behind him and has since become a more humble human being, but Danny Lennon should still be wary about his interactions around the dressing room.
There comes a time in every player’s career where he loses his ability. Older players would usually have such an effect occur closer to 40, though the process can often be accelerated by the lack of stability within a playing career, and Djemba-Djemba has certainly travelled far these last few years. Wages of £1,200 a week doesn’t sound like a whole lot for a professional footballer, but it is a lot for St Mirren to gamble on a player that spent the last few weeks unemployed and may not do much more than help them narrowly avoid the relegation playoff; a fate they are likely to secure with or without his presence.