At the start of the season there were many who assumed that Rangers’ big-name and big-money signings would restore what they considered natural order in the Scottish game.
Back in the top flight, the predictions were that the Ibrox club would step in as the main challengers to defending champions Celtic, and some players openly talked up their own status with the kind of strutting arrogance that annoyed rivals.
But, while some bristled at that notion, Arnaud Djoum said he simply waited for reality to dawn on those who underestimated the difficulty of the test presented by Scotland’s top flight.
Ready to face up to Rangers for the first time, in the sides’ first head to head of the campaign, in Edinburgh, the Hearts midfielder says he made a similar mistake when he signed for the Tynecastle club. He believes that the Govan newcomers will be realising that life in the Scottish Premiership is not as easy as they anticipated and that it takes time to adjust when arriving from other leagues, whether that be down south, the Scottish Championship or abroad.
“They signed a lot of good players, but Scottish football is hard,” said Djoum. “I think some people think it might be easier to come here and it’s not at the same level as England, Italy or France. But I know it’s not easy. There is a lot of competition. It’s not all about the money – it’s about how you deal with the football.
“Sometimes there are long balls, you need to fight for the second balls and you don’t get much time on the ball. Teams sometimes don’t pass the ball much but press really high. At other clubs I’ve enjoyed more time on the ball but here you don’t get that. You get pressure from everywhere – for 90 minutes. So it’s not easy – it’s very difficult. It might be if you are a team like Celtic, but everyone else has to work very hard.
“I’m pleased I have done well in the last two seasons but it took me time to get used to it. My first few weeks were difficult. I was getting on the scoreboard but I was not finding it easy, that’s for sure. I’m happy I managed to get used to it.”
Hearts fans have spent the past couple of days debating the relative merits of England’s League One and the Scottish Premiership, with manager Robbie Neilson holding talks with MK Dons and a switch to the English side looking likely. The clubs have agreed that there will be no announcement until this evening’s fixture is out of the way, leaving Djoum and his colleagues to focus on the task of gaining all three points, which would move them from fourth to second place in the league standings ahead of a busy December.
“I’ve seen a lot of [Rangers] on TV and they have a quality. In this league maybe they will be the second, third or fourth team in the league. They are similar to us. If we play to our best, then we have a great chance to win. They are big team but we are a good team and have a chance to get the result. We want to do a better job than last season and that’s why we aim for second, but third would still be good. This game can show to everyone that we are a pretender to this position and that’s why we will do all we can to win.
“I think we show that we have the capacity to play good football and win games. Recently we’ve had bad results, but we have a great team with great players. On the bench we had Tony Watt, pictured below, and Conor Sammon and we have the capability to finish second or third. Second would be nice as we would be better than last season. We will try everything to reach that goal.
“It’s not only about the money. The difference between us and Rangers right now is not so big and we want to prove on Wednesday that’s it’s not all about the money. It’s about the players and how we perform.
“They are a good team, but they like to play football, so there should be quite a few spaces. It will be a good game for the strikers and attackers, so it’s about making the most of that space.”
But the Hearts players will be wary against a team who have made a habit of scoring late goals in recent weeks, rendering them dangerous right up to the final whistle, according to Djoum.
“It’s never about luck in football. They believe they can score in the final minutes. That’s a good quality to have. That’s why we need to be focused if the game is 1-0 or 0-0 late on because we know they will keep going to the end. It’s a good thing for them – but it’s not lucky. They push and push right to the final whistle.”
The No 10, who was an influential figure as Hearts ended their run of games without a win with a victory over Motherwell on Saturday, is keen to help the capital side piece together a winning run to ensure they have the edge as they head into the winter break, which begins at the end of December. The hope is that he will then head off on African Nations Cup duty, with Cameroon, provided he can impress the national boss in televised matches, such as tonight’s clash at Tynecastle.
“The national manager is watching all these games and that makes it important for me to put in a good performance. I really want to go there and it would be a huge thing for me. I will do everything to show up well.”