The Cameroon international failed to live up to his tag as Roy Keane's eventual successor at Old Trafford and has moved to Villa in a deal that could be worth pounds 1.8m. The midfielder revealed he was also attracting interest from Paris St-Germain, Benfica, Birmingham City and Portsmouth.
But the words of advice from Ferdinand and Smith, who worked with O'Leary during his spell as Leeds United manager, helped to make up his mind to move to Villa.
Now Djemba-Djemba is hoping for an extended run of first-team action to prove his worth in the Premiership, although he will be on the substitutes' bench for tonight's game at Fulham.
Djemba-Djemba said: "In my country, Villa [are] a big team who create big news and my ex-team-mates Rio Ferdinand and Alan Smith spoke to me about the manager and said he was someone who would help me develop. Portsmouth, Benfica, Birmingham and Paris St-Germain were all interested and it was not too easy a decision. But my team-mates said: `Choose Villa because they have good young players and the manager gives young players a chance and works well with them'."
Djemba-Djemba said he has not ruled out the possibility of returning to Old Trafford in the future but admits the longevity of Keane's career was a factor in leaving.
He said: "Roy Keane is a great player who was still playing well and maybe he will be there for another two or three years. I can't wait that sort of time and I want to play football.
"If I start to play and do well, then maybe one day I can go back there. But I am not thinking about that now. I want to play well for Villa and maybe I will stay here a long time. I would like to play on a regular basis. You do not build up the confidence if you start one game and then have to wait four or five more before you play again. It means you are nervous when you play. Let me play five games and I can show what I can do."
O'Leary is hoping Djemba-Djemba can replace Gavin McCann, who is out for the rest of this season with a knee problem. Villa have plenty of midfield players but nobody of a similar nature to the former Sunderland player.
O'Leary said: "I was tracking him because I have been looking to supplement McCann. I have a player now who can fill that position. Eric is a hungry player who wants to come and play football and do well and he will offer us good value."
O'Leary said: "Rio and Alan contributed towards Eric coming here. I had this thrown at me that I never got on with the players at Leeds but two of my diamonds from there have played a part in clinching this deal."
O'Leary's immediate concern is for Villa to halt a poor run of results and re-establish themselves as a side capable of challenging for Europe.
He said: "I have got a good bunch of lads here and no one expected them to finish where they did last season (sixth) and the challenge is to do it again this season."
The central defender Martin Laursen is included in the squad for the trip to Craven Cottage after coming through two reserve outings successfully following a five-month lay-off with a knee problem.
Papa Bouba Diop, Carlos Bocanegra and Zeshan Rehman return to the Fulham squad. All three missed the 1-1 draw at Derby County in the FACup last Saturday because of suspension.
Chris Coleman, the Fulham manager, has omitted the midfielder Claus Jensen and the defender Ian Pearce from his squad. They have both just returned from injury but were included in the reserve game against Brentford last night.