Arnaud Djoum last night hailed winning the Africa Cup of Nations as the pinnacle of his career – before insisting he is ready to be pitched straight back into the Edinburgh derby cauldron.
The Hearts playmaker secured his place in Cameroon folklore on Sunday night by helping the Indomitable Lions claim their fifth continental triumph with a 2-1 win over Egypt.
Djoum was yesterday lapping up the celebrations alongside the rest of the victorious squad, who triumphed despite the absence of eight prominent players who refused to play in the tournament, in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde – his home town – but he expects to be back on Scottish soil tomorrow and will train with Hearts on Thursday.
While the decision about his readiness will come down to head coach Ian Cathro, Djoum has Hibs in his sights.
He said: “The dream was to lift this trophy with Cameroon and then come back to play in the match against Hibs. Winning both those matches would be an unbelievable week.
“I will hopefully be back in training with Hearts on Thursday and if the coach (Cathro) picks me then I will be ready to play in the cup match.
“This has been an incredible experience, with some very tough matches against great players like (Sadio) Mane and (Andre) Ayew, but I’m not the type of person to ask for a rest. I always want to play.
“I have worked hard for the opportunity to play in these big matches so I will be ready to fight for Hearts in the derby.”
Djoum, 27, played the full match in Libreville, Gabon, as Hugo Broos’ unfancied side stunned Egypt – the seven-time winners – thanks to goals by Nicolas N’Koulou and Vincent Aboubakar, who scored the winner in the last minute..
Djoum also starred in victories over Senegal and Ghana in a gruelling knockout phase, having fought his way into the starting 11 after being benched in the group phase.
On the triumph, Djoum said: “I’m so proud to have won the trophy. I’m on a high. We are going to celebrate with the Cameroonian people and enjoy our success.
“We feel like we are living a dream. It’s the best moment in my career.
“Growing up, we knew the achievements of the great Cameroon teams. We watched them on television in the finals when I was just a little boy.
“Now I feel so proud because we have made history too. It’s a really incredible achievement.”
Djoum could be forgiven for doing a double-take when he returns to Hearts training, such has been the turnover in the playing squad during his absence.
He left to join up with the Cameroon squad in Gabon early last month and, in the intervening weeks, the Jambos have snapped up NINE new players.
It appears to be paying dividends, with handsome wins over Rangers and Motherwell and players such as Andraz Struna, Aaron Hughes, Alexandros Tziolis and Esmael Goncalves already looking like astute captures.
The former Roda JC and Lech Poznan man is enthused by the prospect of starring alongside his new team-mates as the Cathro revolution begins to truly kick into gear.
He said: “I have been keeping track of things at Hearts – and there has definitely been some changes!
“I saw the 4-1 score against Rangers and was so happy. It is great to see Hearts doing well and winning important fixtures.
“It is clear that they have brought in some quality players who are already making an impact. These new players can only be a good thing for the club.
“To add more experience and more quality should always be the aim and I am looking forward to working with the new guys and hopefully having more special moments this season.”