FRANCK Dja Djedje had always been told by team-mates in France that he was destined to play in British football. Having signed for Hibernian this week after chances to join Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea and Charlton earlier in his career fell through, he plans to be here for the long term.
The striker, who has agreed an 18-month deal to join Alan Stubbs’s squad, admitted that when it came to Scottish football much of the talk in France was about Celtic and Rangers.
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But, having known former Hibs defender Sol Bamba since he was 13, he had always taken an interest in the Easter Road club, and therefore jumped at the chance to leave Dinamo Minsk for Edinburgh.
“I had the opportunity to come here and I decided to come,” Djedje said yesterday, with team-mate Farid El Alagui. helping to translate “Why Hibs? Because my longtime friend Souleymane Bamba talked to me about them and I was impressed by what I heard. He told me it is a very, very good club and they play a good style of football.
“Usually in France, when we talk about Scottish football, we talk about two clubs – Celtic and Rangers. But before, because Sol was playing for Hibs, I watched some of their games on television. Scottish football is the same as English football: it’s a game of contact and it’s fast.
“When I was young, everyone in my French youth team said I should play in the UK, because my style would suit the game here, as I love challenges and contact. I think my quality will definitely suit Scottish football.
“The manager didn’t have to say too much to convince me to come here, because I’d already spoken to Sol about the club and I’d learned a bit about its history. That had already convinced me it was the right move.
“We met at the PSG academy when I was 13 and he was 14. We’re from the same country and our parents knew each other. He’s been like a big brother to me. I used to stay in Sol’s flat.”
Born in Côte d’Ivoire, Djedje believed he was on the verge of moving to London as a teenager, only for the deal to fall through. “I was that close to signing for Chelsea when I was 19, when Jose Mourinho was manager,” he explained. “But PSG asked for a lot of money, so I didn’t go. Then I was injured and when I came back I had a trial with Charlton, who were in the Second Division at the time. Again, PSG asked for too much money, so it didn’t happen.”
Instead, Djedje stayed in France and played for several clubs before moving in 2012 to Ukrainian club Chornomorets Odessa. Last year, he moved on to Dinamo Minsk, but, becoming increasingly concerned by the conflict in Ukraine, he decided it was time to move again. “I left because the problems had started to get a bit dangerous for me and my family. I preferred my family to return [to France].
“I sent my family back first. Then the club gave me three options: to stay and see how it goes, to leave just temporarily until the situation settled down and become a little better then come back, or to cancel my contract. We negotiated and agreed to cancel my contract.”
Now 28, Djedje believes he is beginning to realise the raw talent that was always in his game. He puts that improvement down to playing in the Europa League, and he hopes to return to that competition with Hibs – after winning promotion back to the Premiership, of course.
“I think my experience helps me to be better. Before, when I was younger, I always played well but I was a bit disorganised. Now I know when to make runs and I have a better positional sense on the pitch. Playing a lot of Europa League games gave me the experience needed to learn these things. “My first ambition is to play in the top league with Hibs. Then it is to play in Europe with Hibs.
“My objective is obviously to succeed in Scotland and make a name for myself here. It’s not just a short-term move for me. I want to stay as long as I can with Hibs.”
Djedje may have to be content with a place on the bench against Falkirk today, but is sure he will soon be up to speed. “I’ve not played for a month. I’m not 100 per cent yet, but I’ve been working with the fitness coach so I hope to play a part in the game and then build up more fitness next week.”
While El Alagui has still to return from injury and Dominique Malonga is away on international duty, Stubbs has options up front in Djedje, loan signing Martin Boyle and Jason Cummings, who evaded a ban this week after the case against him for making an offensive gesture in the game against Hearts was found not proven. “It’s really good news,” the manager said of the Cummings decision. “And I think we all feel as if they deserve credit for coming to what we feel is the right decision, so it’s good news for us.
“We’re happy that we’ve got Djedje in. Jason being available is a big, big plus, and bringing Martin in gives us that option of playing Martin through the middle as well. And, especially with Djedje and Martin, we’ve added to the team an element I’ve always wanted to bring into the team, and that’s real pace. The biggest nightmare for a defender is pace, and when you’ve got pace with intelligence it’s even more of a problem.”
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