HE has spent six years playing in the Premier League and Championship and boasts 25 senior international caps for Cameroon. He is not yet 28, and should be in the prime of his footballing life.

Yet while players the length and breadth of the country were plying their trade in the opening four weeks of the season, Andre Bikey was redundant.

Cast onto football's free agent scrapheap after an unsuccessful end to his three-year spell at Burnley, the former Reading defender was part of a growing group of experienced professionals who have been unable to find themselves a club.

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On Wednesday, his enforced unemployment came to an end as Middlesbrough offered him a one-year deal, with the option for an extension if things go well.

Today, he will return to a match-day squad as Ipswich Town visit the Riverside, and in the absence of the injured Rhys Williams , he could even find himself parachuted straight into the starting XI.

He is back to where he believes he should be, but whatever happens in the remainder of his career, he will never forget the feeling of being unattached and unwanted.

“Lots of things happen to you in life that you do not expect,” said Bikey, who played in Spain, Portugal and Russia before moving to England in 2006. “In football, anything can happen very quickly.

“Football is changing, with clubs wanting more and more players for free. A lot of players are finding themselves in positions they don't expect. It wasn't a good position for me because when you are coming to the end of your contract, you want to have something as good as you had before, but then suddenly you do not have it. But that's life.

“Sometimes you have to accept something you never expect to happen. Right now, this is a new challenge for me. The manager trusts me, and I expect to give him back what he has given to me.” Mowbray identified Bikey as a potential recruit at the start of the summer, but an initial round of talks broke down and the Middlesbrough manager targeted other areas of the field once Jonathan Woodgate agreed to return to the North-East.

The situation changed last month when Williams damaged his ankle ligaments at Gillingham, and Mowbray invited Bikey, an imposing, muscular defender who loves to stride with the ball out of defence, for another discussion.

The African has been training at Rockliffe Park for a couple of weeks, and is happy to have signed for a manager who admired him enough to pursue him twice in the same summer.

“We had a long chat at the start of the summer,” he said. “I came here in June or July to have a chat with him, but unfortunately we didn't get an agreement. I went back, but after the injury to Rhys Williams, he got back in touch again to say he had a couple of problems with the squad.

“He needed a player in a certain position, so he gave me a ring again. I said yes and we had an agreement straight away. Now I am here and it is better to be in a place where someone trusts you than to be somewhere else where you are not 100 per cent sure. That is why I am here right now.

“I had some offers from abroad, but I am 27 years old and I still feel as though I have some things to do in this country. I gave myself my word in that.”

Some Middlesbrough supporters could be forgiven for wondering where Bikey disappeared to last season as his name seemed to drop off the footballing map.

In part, that is because he slipped down the pecking order at Burnley and barely featured at Turf Moor. However, another reason for his relative anonymity is that he changed his name to Andre Amougou during a seven-game loan spell at Bristol City that included a game against the Teessiders.

This season, he has reverted to the name of Andre Bikey, and it will be Bikey rather than Amougou that appears on the back of his shirt. So why the initial switch, and why the sudden reversion to his previous name?

“It is Bikey now,” he said. “I used Andre Amougou last year because of my dad. He is getting old and I only really get to see him once a year, so I thought it would be nice to use Amougou, which is his family name. Amougou is my family name, but Bikey is the name I was given when I was born. I think it is time to go back to using that now.”