Andre Onana must think of his career when he decides whether to miss part of the Premier League season to go to the Africa Cup of Nations in January, says former Manchester United and Cameroon midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba.
Indomitable Lions goalkeeper Onana could miss more than a month of United’s campaign if he joins his country’s squad at the tournament in Ivory Coast.
The 27-year-old, who ended his international retirement in September, has come under scrutiny during a poor start to the season for United which has seen them knocked out of Europe and well off the pace domestically.
“One of the problems for him is even if he plays well over the next month, he then goes away for a month to Afcon,” Djemba-Djemba told BBC Sport Africa, adding that Onana could damage his prospects of being first choice for Cameroon if he stays in Manchester.
“He knows if he goes, maybe he will lose his place at Manchester United.
“He has to decide what is best for him. He just needs to do what is best for his career.”
Afcon starts on 13 January, with the final on 11 February, and Onana could miss up to four Premier League matches for United depending on how far Cameroon progress at the finals.
United ‘don’t give you time’
No keeper has kept more clean sheets than Onana’s six in the Premier League this season, but he has made several high-profile mistakes since his £47.2m move in July, including errors against Galatasaray and Bayern Munich which contributed to United finishing bottom of their Champions League group.
As well as his shot-stopping attributes, Onana arrived from Inter Milan with a reputation for ball distribution and play progression which was expected to help the Reds change their style, only for familiar problems to deepen for manager Erik ten Hag during a first half of the season which many have seen as a regression.
The pressure on Onana has been increased by his tendency to pass with his feet and advance from his area at a club which is not used to having goalkeepers with those instincts, Djemba-Djemba believes.
“Everybody knows Manchester United are one of the biggest clubs in the world,” added Djemba-Djemba, who joined United in 2003 and made 39 appearances for the club under legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
“When you come to Manchester United, they don’t give you time.
“Only one or two goalkeepers for Manchester City have played like that. They have a coach like Pep Guardiola – he likes the keeper to evolve and play with their feet.
“At Manchester United, if you are a good goalkeeper with your hands, they will buy you.
“They don’t care if you don’t play with your feet.”
City are one of seven clubs to have won at Old Trafford this season during a run Djemba-Djemba calls “very difficult” for Onana and Ten Hag.
“When I was there with [Ryan] Giggsy, Roy Keane, [Ruud] Van Nistelrooy, [Fabien] Barthez, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Diego Forlan, [Quinton] Fortune, [Darren] Fletcher, you could not beat [United] easily,” he said.
“Never. Now it is a new generation. The mentality has changed, it is not the same.
“Onana has been criticised because it’s a big team. Manchester United is like that.
“When the team is not good enough, as a goalkeeper, you need to be careful. You don’t need to take any risks.”
Sticking with his style
Djemba-Djemba believes Onana’s personality and success with Inter and previous club Ajax means he will persevere with his bold approach.
However, he expects fans to be more comfortable with the keeper’s style if United’s form changes.
“If he has something in his head, he will not change,” said Djemba-Djemba.
“You see goalkeepers sometimes make mistakes and the next day they cannot play because they are afraid. But Onana will not change his style of play.
“Maybe now some fans are starting to be used to his style of play. They need to have more success, more wins – but at the moment it is very difficult.
“Andre is a very good, upbeat goalkeeper. You cannot be a poor goalkeeper after two or three big seasons like he had at those two clubs.
“He just needs to evolve in the English style.”
Meanwhile, Onana has started three of Cameroon’s five matches since his return to the national set-up in September.
Onana has been an ever-present for United but Djemba-Djemba, an Afcon winner with the Indomitable Lions in 2002, says he must consider whether to travel to Ivory Coast next month.
“I don’t know what he is thinking, what he wants to do,” the 42-year-old said.
“I’m not a selfish man – I will not say to him ‘Go to play for Cameroon’ because if I say that it means I don’t care about his career for his club.
“He has to decide what is best for him.”
Sir Alex ‘like a daddy to players’
Djemba-Djemba believes his former boss Ferguson would have backed Onana’s choice either way.
“When I was there, it was different,” he reflected of the manager responsible for 13 of United’s 20 top-flight titles.
“We had many players, you have Alex Ferguson there – he was like a daddy for all the players.
“When you go to see him you say to him, ‘Look, daddy I want to do this’. He said ‘If this is the best decision for you, just do the best for you’.
“And when you came back, Alex Ferguson would never say ‘I don’t want you… you [went] to the Africa Cup of Nations’.
“He would just say to you ‘If you go there, you play for your success. If you come back and you train well, you play well, if I need you [then] I will play you’.
“He was fair. I cannot say how [Erik] Ten Hag is because I was not with him.”
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Publish date : 2023-12-19 17:25:03