Thursday 27 May 2004

On Wednesday, 18th March 1998, Manchester United were faced with the relatively straightforward task of overcoming opponents Monaco in the Quarter Final of the Champions League.

United had, in textbook European fashion, already secured a 0-0 draw at the Stade Louis II leaving the stage set for a grandstand second leg finish at Old Trafford. However, Monaco had other ideas. An opening goal from David Trezeguet put United on the back foot, and although Solskjaer managed to net an equaliser, Alex Ferguson's men were eliminated courtesy of the away goals rule.

For many it was a shock result, but for those more familiar with Monaco's team, the events at Old Trafford were nothing of the sort. A club dwarfed in size by United, Monaco had built up an impressive portfolio of talent under manager Jean Tigana.

The likes of Enzo Scifo, Fabien Barthez, Ali Benarbia, John Collins, Sylvain Legwinski, Emmanuel Petit, David Trezeguet and Thierry Henry all graced the side from the principality during the late nineties. And according to another Monaco old-boy, Martin Djetou, there was a unique atmosphere amongst that special collection of players from the off.

"The first time I got there, I looked around, saw all the players and I'll admit that I was a little nervous," he said. "It was definitely a special group of players but I was confident that I had the quality to be in the same team as those players.

"The first thing Tigana said to me was, 'You are here because you're good enough and I want you to play in front of the defence. I see you as a regular player.'"

Djetou was signed from Strasbourg; his main purpose in the side was to provide the defence with a protective screen. It was the move that pushed the unassuming midfielder into the limelight and was a far cry from his humble beginnings playing for little-known French side, Creteil.

"That was my first big contract," Djetou recalled. "When I arrived at the club, Tigana wanted me to play more regularly. I was very surprised by that but I played well and we won the League in my first season there.

"I have plenty of fond memories of my time at Monaco. We won the League twice, played very well in the Champions League and knocked out Manchester United at Old Trafford."

However, all good things come to an end and in 2001, with his reputation on the rise and a host of European clubs looking at the prospect of signing the combative defensive midfielder, Djetou decided to call time on his Monaco career. His decision sparked a flurry of interest.

"I had been with Monaco for five years and although I wanted to stay there longer but the President didn't offer me a good deal so I decided to move." At the time, press reports were heavily linking Djetou with a move to Fulham and a reunion with Tigana - but in the end the lure of Serie A football to be too strong.

Djetou explained, "Tigana spoke to me at the time and told me that Fulham was interested in signing me. I wanted to come to Fulham but at the same time I had never played in Italy and it was always one of my ambitions to play in Serie A so I signed for Parma."

Upon his signing, Djetou was widely seen as a replacement for French international defender Lilian Thuram who had left for Juventus. "It was strange because he was at Monaco and moved to Parma just before I got there, then just before I went to Parma, he left for Juventus.

"But we were two different players; I can play just in front of the defence of in a central defensive position whilst Thuram was more of a natural fullback.

"When Parma said that they were having some money problems, they asked me where I wanted to go, that's when Tigana called me about moving to Fulham."

A one-year loan deal was arranged and Djetou made the move to London. His tough tackling style seemed ideally suited to the stresses and strains of the Premiership but it was some time before the Fulham faithful got to see their new player in action as shortly after his arrival; he underwent a knee cartilage operation.

Despite Djetou not featuring as regularly as he would have liked during his first season at Fulham, Chris Coleman had seen enough to be suitably impressed and a second season-long loan spell was arranged.

An injury to Sylvain Legwinski in the West London derby at Stamford Bridge gave Djetou the chance he needed and the Frenchman took it with both hands, remaining in the first team for the remainder of the season.

"It was nice to get a good spell in the first team," reflected Djetou. "I was glad to be able to help the team and Cookie. We played well against the bigger teams but we could have done better against the teams around our position.

"It was a good season but to stay in a high position, we needed to win more games against sides like Wolves and Leeds. But it was nice to finish with an away win at Bolton."

Of course, it's possible that the match at the Reebok Stadium could well have been Djetou last appearance in black and white - although the man himself is hoping to be at the Cottage come August.

"I hope that I will be able to stay at Fulham. We need to arrange a deal with Parma but these things are never simple."

However, Cookie has made no secret of his admiration for the qualities of the giant Frenchman so Fulham fans can rest assured that no stones will be left unturned in attempting to keep Djet in a white shirt next season.