All change for Hearts’ Arnaud Djoum after Africa Cup of Nations

Arnaud Djoum is still getting to know his new Hearts team-mates. Picture: SNS.

Arnaud Djoum is still getting to know his new Hearts team-mates. Picture: SNS.

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If Sunday proved a discombobulating experience for most of those involved in a frantic Edinburgh derby, spare a special thought for Arnaud Djoum.

The Hearts midfielder was sent on midway through the second half in a bid to add composure to a contest that was badly in need of an injection of quality.

But having only just shaken the African dust from his boots, Djoum became bogged down along with everyone else on a rutted, sand-bound Tynecastle pitch in Sunday’s 0-0 draw.

Just seven days earlier he was striding across a lush pitch in Gabon as Cameroon came from behind against Egypt to seal the African Cup of Nations title.

Never mind the difference in underfoot conditions, Djoum noted that he’d endured a drop in temperature of 30 degrees since returning to Scotland.

Further hampering his 
re-acclimatisation efforts was returning to find such an extensively changed squad.

When the midfielder left for Gabon, near the beginning of January, Hearts had yet to sign any of the nine players that subsequently came through the door at Tynecastle during a busy transfer window.

Djoum was further disorientated by joining up with them all not in Edinburgh, but in St Andrews, where the squad trained for two days last week. Djoum arrived back on Thursday and headed straight to Fife before having to quickly get to know the likes of Esmael Goncalves, Malaury Martin and Alexandros Tziolos, who all started Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Hibs.

Indeed, seven members of Hearts’ starting XI against Hibs hadn’t been at the club when Djoum left for his remarkable adventure in Gabon, where he started three of Cameroon’s six games, including the final itself.

It was a credit to him that he was able to contribute at all on Sunday given his recent hectic schedule. Djoum was sent on after 65 minutes for Sam Nicholson but found the going as hard as everyone else. Interestingly he feels that Hearts’ cause might be aided by playing next Wednesday’s replay away from Tynecastle, where they are considering replacing the pitch following widespread criticism of the state of the park.

By the time of the Easter Road clash Djoum will also have had another 90 minutes in which to further find out his new team-mates’ strengths, providing he starts this 
Saturday’s home Premiership clash with Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

“Yes, we have a lot of new players here,” noted Djoum. “I trained a couple of days with them but I saw a lot of quality. There are more experienced players here. We can use that in the replay. On a better pitch, we will do better things, so I’m confident we can get a result.

“I came back on Thursday afternoon,” he added. “I had two days to be ready, so it was quite short. I tried to be ready as soon as possible to help my team.

“There are a lot of new faces here and I’m getting to know them. They look like good guys with a good mentality. In one week, I’ll know them all.”

The win in Gabon, where Djoum graduated from substitute to vital cog in the team, has helped him believe in himself more. Hearts can only benefit from the exposure as well. Djoum could yet make it a unique Africa Cup of Nations/Scottish Cup double this season, with Ayr United or Clyde waiting in the last eight should the Tynecastle side overcome Hibs.

“When you do that, to win such a big trophy, you get more confidence in yourself,” said Djoum. “I played in the final, so that was a big boost personally too. I will try to take this with me and help the team.

“Yes, it is the best moment, the biggest achievement,” he added. “I never expected to win a cup like this, so I’m very happy. I have that experience behind me now, and I have to say thanks to all the fans. I knew I needed to get back to help Hearts. We had two days over there, to have a party and enjoy it with the people. I 
did that. After that I had to come back as we have games coming.”

There have been times when the celebrations following Africa Cup of Nations wins have continued for days, angering managers of those clubs patiently awaiting 
the return of players in 
mid-season.

But, while there was a heroes’ welcome for the Cameroon team when they returned early last week to Yaounde, where thousands lined the street and the players were invited to a special state reception held by president Paul Biya, Djoum made it back to Scotland on schedule.

“I am a professional footballer,” he explained. “I have a contract here, so it’s important I get back as soon as possible. Maybe later there will be time to party more and celebrate the moment.

“It was amazing,” he said of the scenes that greeted the triumph by the Indomitable Lions. “We stayed in Gabon the first night to make party with the people there. Then we got back to Cameroon.

“The people there were crazy. We had a tour of 
the city, we enjoyed it with them. It was a nice experience.

“I’m not used to drink. I take one glass of wine. I’m not someone who drinks a lot. Maybe I’ll have more when the season is over.

“I want to enjoy it but I have to focus on Hearts.”

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