Manchester United's rebuilding for the new season continued apace yesterday, with the Cameroon midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba formally completing his £4.2m move from Nantes, while the Basle coach, Christian Gross, emerged as the front-runner to become Sir Alex Ferguson's new assistant manager.
Djemba-Djemba's arrival on a five-year contract had been fully expected, but the link with Gross comes as more of a surprise. Despite having steered Basle to prominence on the European stage - most notably evidenced in a thrilling victory which helped eliminate Liverpool from the Champions' League last autumn - Gross remains best known in this country for a harrowing 10-month spell as head coach of Tottenham Hotspur, which ended in 1998 with the club narrowly avoiding relegation.
Supporters and players at Tottenham failed to take to Gross, but his tactical knowledge of the game on the Continent is extensive and Ferguson sees that as a key attribute for the successor to Carlos Queiroz, who was appointed coach of Real Madrid last week. Ferguson wants someone with tactical acumen and an insight into the game in Europe, and Gross fits the bill perfectly. Neither would Gross, a studious type, pose a direct threat to Ferguson himself.
Ferguson was in magnanimous spirits yesterday, hailing Djemba-Djemba as a "Manchester United player in every sense" as the Cameroonian became his second signing of the week following the arrival of David Bellion on Tuesday.
"Eric is a young player we have watched throughout the season and he's impressed us each time with his understanding of the game," said Ferguson. "In the last few months he has shown his development, playing in a very good Cameroon team and he looks like a Manchester United player in every sense."
United have agreed an initial £3.5m fee for the Douala-born player, with a further £700,000 payable once he has made a set number of appearances.
A combative midfielder in the Roy Keane mould, Djemba-Djemba might have to curb the physical approach which brought him 10 yellow cards and one red in his 28 league appearances last term.
"My style of play is ideally suited to the Premiership," he said. "I am quite physical, but I'm sure a lot of the yellow cards I got last season would have gone unnoticed in England. It's much easier to get booked in France because they don't get stuck in like they do here."
Djemba-Djemba is returning to Cameroon to attend Marc-Vivien Foé's funeral, but will be back in Manchester before the club set off on their four-match tour of the United States on 19 July.
"This is a very proud moment for me," he said. "I met Sir Alex Ferguson for the first time yesterday and I am really impressed by him. He said he has noticed a lot of potential in me and wants to bring it out. He said that Manchester United never make a mistake with a player."
Having returned to Manchester to conclude that deal, United's chief executive, Peter Kenyon, has also continued discussions with Paris St-Germain in his efforts to sign Ronaldinho. United were remaining quiet over the progress of negotiations but the Brazilian's brother and agent, Roberto Assis, is expecting a second bid to be lodged.
Steve Bruce, who had been linked with the assistant manager's job at Old Trafford, is poised to sign a new five-year contract at Birmingham City.Reuse content