Djemba faces question of identity

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The Independent Football

Last June Eric Djemba-Djemba was an outgoing and extrovert character, with good reason. Cameroon were progressing through the Confederations' Cup and the midfielder was on the verge of signing for Manchester United, having impressed many observers in France.

Eight months on and the ready smile has gone. While his team-mates were able to celebrate their qualification for today's quarter-final in the African Cup of Nations against Nigeria, Djemba was ill at ease. A lot of things have changed in a short space of time for the player who now just wears Djemba on his national shirt. But it is not just half of his name he has lost. Cameroon reached the final of the Confederations' Cup, partly thanks to his form, and he then sealed his £3.5m move from Nantes to United. It also meant he started this season as a first-team player alongside Roy Keane, the man he calls le patron, le chef.

His clash with Sol Campbell in the Community Shield in August ensured he avoided the anonymity he seeks off the field. But as Cameroon, the holders, face the Super Eagles in Monastir this afternoon, Djemba senses a chance to impose himself once more.

When Cameroon beat Senegal in the final of the Nations' Cup two years ago, he had just broken through into the first team but did not play in that victory. Now, as the Indomitable Lions seek a historic third consecutive triumph, Djemba wants to make up for missing out before.

He says: "I didn't play in the final in Mali two years ago, so this is a big opportunity for me. That means I have to play a big role for this team, but we aren't scared of Nigeria, we are confident. I want to show everyone the best of Djemba."

The problem for the 23-year-old is that he has played so few games for United this season, making only five League starts. His inevitable lack of sharpness has been evident in Cameroon's three group games so far. Djemba has dropped one half of his name; now he is searching for his identity as a footballer.