Hearts manager Ian Cathro is confident that Arnaud Djoum is committed to the club but he says he has no problem with any of his players harbouring aspirations of playing in a bigger league one day.
While on Confederations Cup duty with Cameroon the midfielder was quoted saying he wants to “take a step towards a better club”, stating his intention to move to one of Europe’s five major leagues during this transfer window.
But while the ambition is something the Gorgie manager admires, having spoken with Djoum, who has another two years of his contract to run, he believes the 28-year-old remains firmly focused on delivering quality performances for Hearts.
“He is content here. Arnaud has had to live through quite a lot of big experiences and you can’t undervalue the impact that has,” said Cathro. “He, for sure, can progress and play at a higher level, but what he has to do to be ready for that is be focused and concentrated here, which he is.”
Cathro welcomed the African Cup of Nations winner back to training this week, having permitted him a short break at the end of a summer of international duties, and he detected no despondency in his demeanour.
Since arriving in the capital two years ago, Djoum, who was voted the supporters’ player of the year last term, has made 72 appearances and scored a dozen goals. Having arrived back this week with a hug for his gaffer and a smile that apparently lit up the dressing room, Cathro says the player still wants to perform for the club that helped revive a career that had stalled at Poznan. But, having made his mark on the international stage, stories linking him with a move refuse to go away.
Cathro has read them all but says there are no underlying issues with the player and, having spoken with Djoum, at the end of last season and again since his return, he is satisfied that the player is focused on delivering “big performances for this club”.
“Players playing in our team, at what is a big club in this country, will have opportunities to progress and we, accepting our position within the bigger market, have to deal with those things,” said Cathro. “Everybody understands the aspirations and desire to progress. It is something we all have but there is only one way that will happen.
“I want every single one of them to want that because if you want those things then you need to have a certain mindset. Every day you have to want to develop and push yourself. As long as our motivation all comes together for the benefit of the team then I think that will be how you get the best possible performances on the pitch.”
Still looking to recruit a goalkeeper, Cathro, whose men face East Fife in the Betfred Cup tomorrow, is also in the market for additions in midfield and in attack. But John Souttar’s return, ahead of schedule, from a ruptured Achilles, means he has no worries about the backline.
“Things have stepped up for him over the past couple of months,” added the head coach. “Things have gone really well and everyone has worked hard at supporting him. He is in good condition, good shape and he will be available reasonably soon.” Having safely negotiated 45 minutes of game time earlier this week, he is now back in full training with the first team squad.
“Most young players have hunger anyway but he has been starved of the game so he comes back in with a wee bit more of that than normal and we have had to control that and keep him calm so that things are done at the right time. He has worked particularly hard on getting himself back and on his strengthening work so he is nearly ready.”