Hearts’ chances of keeping Arnaud Djoum may well hinge on the midfielder’s Africa Cup of Nations fortunes. Out of contract and a free agent, he will be firmly in the shop window with Cameroon at the upcoming finals in Egypt.
If he impresses, he will likely attract attention from some reputable European clubs. An unremarkable tournament for the player could therefore work in the Edinburgh club’s favour. Hearts offered Djoum a new deal before his previous one expired two weeks ago but he has yet to give a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with more talks to come. The Cypriot club Apollon Limassol have also put a proposal on the table, in their case a two-year contract. Djoum has not responded either way. He is currently with his national team in Qatar and is aware he has an opportunity to showcase his talent on the international stage over the coming weeks.
Cameroon, the Africa Cup of Nations holders, face Mali tonight in Doha in their final pre-tournament friendly. They begin defending their trophy in Group F against Guinea-Bissau on Tuesday week in Ismailia, north east Egypt. Further group games against Ghana and Benin follow.
Djoum has been handed the No.10 shirt for the competition by coach Clarence Seedorf and his assistant, Patrick Kluivert. He started two of Cameroon’s last three games against Brazil and Comoros and is considered a key member of an Indomitable Lions’ squad expected to go far in the AFCON.
Now 30 years old, he is at the peak of his powers. Joining Hearts four years ago propelled him into international football and he played a major role in Cameroon’s 2017 Africa Cup of Nations success. Yet he has not earned an exorbitant amount of money during his career compared to many modern-day internationalists.
FC Brussels, Roda JC, Akhisar Belediyespor and Lech Poznan are the previous clubs on his CV. None could be regarded as big hitters in financial terms. Djoum was also on Anderlecht’s books at one stage but did not manage a first-team appearance.
He is now at an age where the next contract he signs will almost certainly be his last big one, thus he will feel compelled to make the correct decision for himself and his family when the time comes. Most footballers retire in their mid-to-late 30s, hence the common saying about it being a short career.
Apollon offered Djoum an attractive package to move to Cyprus and they can provide European football next season having qualified for the Europa League. However, the terms they put forward would not change the midfielder’s life drastically compared to his salary at Tynecastle Park. There is also the issue of whether wages are guaranteed to be paid in full and on time in Cyprus.
Hearts are simultaneously doing everything possible to persuade Djoum to stay in Edinburgh without wrecking their own financial structure. He is settled in the Capital city and is an automatic starter in the team when fit. Manager Craig Levein regards him highly and wants to give him a pivotal midfield role again next season.
Playing in the Ladbrokes Premiership has proven to be more beneficial to his career than any other league to date, and remaining would safeguard his international place under the Dutch legend Seedorf. There is also a risk for any player placing himself in the shop window at a major international tournament when they don’t have a contract at club level. An injury at the Africa Cup of Nations could sideline Djoum and leave him without a team when the domestic season starts in August. All of the above will be swirling around in his head. The next few weeks may well be the most critical of Arnaud Djoum’s playing days.