Arnaud Djoum has done more than simply assume a new shirt number this season. With a season of Scottish football under his belt and bolstered by the benefits of a full pre-season, Hearts latest No 10 is taking on more responsibility.
“Zinedine Zidane was my idol, always, so to wear this number gives me a lot of confidence. He wasn’t bad! So I am really happy to wear this number for such a good club,” said Djoum. “It’s the first time I have worn the number, so it gives me a lot of responsibility. I will try to play well and make the difference for this team.
“I don’t know if I will play in the ‘10’ role all season, I will play where the gaffer wants me to play. I can also play the No 8 which is more box to box.”
Last season Osman Sow carried the weight of the iconic 10 on his jersey and the football connotations it tends to conjure up. He delivered to such an extent his absence was sorely felt when he departed mid-term for China.
But Djoum has pledged his future to the club, signing a contract extension that ties the midfielder to the Tynecastle club until May 2019.
By then he hopes that Hearts will be considered consistent title contenders and he intends to be playing a key role in that advancement. His manager has similar expectations.
“He is a good player, technically, and I expect him to get more goals this season with his improved fitness and I expect him to create more as well. I think with the No 10 comes a little bit of pressure but it is pressure he wants,” said Robbie Neilson yesterday, describing him as “a great talent”, going on to extol the 27-year-old’s team ethic
“I have been speaking to him regularly for the last few months to try to get him tied up and to get him to see our side of it and what we wanted to do with him. I think his wife is quite settled now and he has a kid that’s about to go to nursery and he wants a base.
“If they are happy then they play better and I think Arnaud is happy here. His condition from when he first came in just under a year ago until now is night and day. His physique is great, his fitness is great and he will be a big player this year.
“He is more of an attacking threat than other central midfielders we have got so he can play in between the two.”
Where he features in the team is of less concern to the Belgian than where Hearts find themselves in the Premiership table. Embarking on a new campaign, he is full of belief.
First up are Celtic, at Tynecastle tomorrow, before Hearts head to Pittodrie to face the only other team to finish above then last term. In between, there is also the small matter of a League Cup trip to McDiarmid Park on Wednesday to face St Johnstone.
“It is a tough start but it is also maybe the best time to play Celtic,” added Djoum. “Once they have found their form and have played a lot of games they will have a lot of confidence. Now I don’t know if they are at 100 per cent yet so maybe it is a good time to play against them.”
The defending champions are the benchmark but, while Djoum urges patience, reminding everyone that Hearts are a work in progress, the fact he has signed up for the long haul is an indication of how he expects the club’s fortunes to improve as they build on the past two seasons.
“The club has a good future because everybody is going forward and getting better and better – in every aspect,” he said.
“There is going to be the new stand and everything. I want to be part of it. I think the club can have a good future.
“Last season we finished third and I think the club is now in the position to go higher and higher. Next year, we will try to challenge the top two, maybe challenge for the title. I think that’s an achievable objective for the club in the next year.”
Rangers’ ascent to the top flight is expected to make that more of a struggle but Djoum is undaunted.
“It will be really difficult,” he said. “We just have to do it step by step. It will take time but I think the club has a good base to achieve this.
“Rangers are a good team and they have brought in some good players. It will be harder. But we have also got some new players with a lot of quality.
“So we will try to at least do the same as last year. It will be difficult but we will work hard and hopefully we can do that.”