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  • Transfer : Geremi joins Chelsea by signing a five year deal (ChelseaFC)

Transfer : Geremi joins Chelsea by signing a five year deal (ChelseaFC)

A year after it nearly happened, midfielder and free-kick specialist Geremi has become a Chelsea player. The second arrival of the Abramovich era signed from Real Madrid on a five year deal for 10 million Euros (approximately £7 million) this afternoon at Stamford Bridge.

Le 16 juillet 2003

Flanked by his agent and Spanish lawyers and looking lean and strong, he spoke exclusively to the Chelsea website straight after adding his signature to the contract. He becomes our first ever Cameroonian player.

First the facts. Geremi – full name Geremi Njitap (pronounced En-jee-tap) Fotso – was born in the town of Bafoussam on December 20 1978 and is 24 years old. His career has taken him from hometown club Racing Bafoussam, through top Paraguayan side Cerro Porteno and Genclerbirgli of Turkey to the mighty Real Madrid.

He earned a championship medal in Cameroon as a precocious teenager and two from Spain with Real, and was the star of the title decider in Paraguay in 1997 that Porteno lost. With Madrid, he has also won the European Cup twice.

As a Cameroon international with 42 caps he has won the African Cup of Nations twice (2000 and 2002) and the Olympics in 2000.

He is a winner.

In the central African state English and French are taught in schools, so his English is good, and he is determined make it even better.

So how does he feel to have joined the Chelski revolution ?

“I am very happy to come to one of the biggest teams in the Premier League,” he says, smiling in confirmation.

The fact is, of course, that he might have signed a year ago. Claudio Ranieri certainly wanted him.

“I don’t know,” he muses. “In football, your life it is like that. Last year if I didn’t come and maybe it was decided like that. This year I have come here and I am happier.”

His arrival in full-time football coincided with the Chelsea renaissance under Glenn Hoddle and the headline-grabbing signing of Ruud Gullit. This was big news in Cameroon as it was everywhere else.

“I know Chelsea from a long time ago because I was following them ever since I was a professional player,” he says. “I know a lot about Chelsea. And I know they are one the biggest teams in England.

“Of course I’ve also played against a lot of players at Chelsea, so it’s not like it’s a new team to me. You know I was at Middlesbrough when I played against and we knew that Chelsea is bigger than Middlesbrough. When we played against bigger teams we know the motivation is different, totally different. We had a lot of ambition last season but we didn’t achieve anything. When we played against Chelsea – once in the Cup and twice in the League – for me they were great games.”

In one of those encounters he scored a fantastic free kick past Carlo Cudicini, so will Geremi be seeking our Carlo for a quick word when he joins up for training later this month ?

“Nooo !” he laughs, before adding : “Sometimes you try to make a goal and sometimes you try to score. The time I took this free kick I was trying to score.”

So we have lost Franco Zola, but appear to have gained an equally conscientious dead-ball specialist.

“Set pieces I have been used to take,” he says. “Everything you do you have to work hard, improve every day. I hope I am going to work hard and continue to do what I did, to score or deliver some good set-pieces for my team.

He can’t remember the ratio of free-kick goals he has scored amongst those in his career (including the seven last season on loan to Boro), but is anxious to maintain that special skill.

“What I can say is that the most important thing is just to improve, work technically how to shoot,” he says. That is the most important thing. I am a player with a lot of ambition, and I like to work hard.”

That ambition has taken him on a transatlantic route to the top.

“You know, before when I was in Cameroon my ambition was to become a professional footballer,” he explains. His father and a brother were both excellent players at home. “I had an opportunity to go to Paraguay with the Cameroon national side and I had an offer from [then Division One title holders] Cerro Porteno and I took it. I played in the Championship decider and became the best player.

“But it was very far from my family, so I was trying to come back to Europe. And then I got the offer from Turkey and immediately I signed there, and after there Madrid.”

He has been a Madrileno since August 1999, and the Champions League experience gained there will be invaluable as Chelsea aim for a first stab at the competition since 2000.

“This is very important for me,” he confirms, “because it’s one of my ambitions to play in European competitions. Most players like to play European games. Chelsea are trying to build a big team – that’s important for us as well, to go so far in that competition and the League.

“For a player the Champions League is like a World Cup for teams. My best performance – I know I played a lot of games but I remember the goal I scored – you only remember the goal you score in the Champions League. It was against Bayern Munich in the semi-final 18 months ago.” It was the away goal that clinched the tie.

“I also played against Man U. I’m a Chelsea player now. And I know we are going to play against Man U. Like all players, our ambition this year is to try to win the title.”

He mentions ambition a lot. There is steel beneath that amiable exterior. So the fact that he is joining just at the moment that Roman Abramovich’s millions are being attached to some of the world’s greatest players is the icing on the cake.

“Of course, it’s made me even more excited,” he grins. “To come and play with very big players is very, very important – you have a good motivation.”

Russian is not as yet one of the five languages he speaks. Turkish and Spanish are.

“Listen,” he advises, “you try – you can’t go some place and die of hunger. You go to Spain, you go to Turkey, you speak the language and you don’t go hungry.”

It’s hunger of different sort that will motivate this impressive individual at London’s top club.


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