When Cameroon’s 64-year-old national coach travels all the way to Aberdeen, he must have very good reason.
Hugo Broos fronted up at Pittodrie two weeks ago to determine whether Hearts midfielder Arnaud Djoum was international class. He left with a resounding “yes”.
Djoum received his first Cameroon call-up last week when Broos named a 23-man squad to face Gambia and Gabon. Joining Hearts 12 months ago revived a career which had stagnated in Poland and Turkey in recent seasons. He acknowledges the call from his birthland may never have come without the move to Tynecastle.
Part of his excitement derives from knowing the national manager came to see him in the flesh. Twice. Broos attended Hearts’ league fixtures against Celtic and Aberdeen earlier this month to assess the 27-year-old personally.
Aside from professional pride, Djoum has also brought sheer joy to a clan of Africans in the Cameroon capital, Yaounde. He was born there before moving to Belgium aged four. Capped by Belgium at under-19 and under-20 level, his blood is indisputably African. Family members are now rejoicing at his call-up.
“It means more to my family that I am in the Cameroon squad than if I was in the Belgium squad,” Djoum told the Evening News. “Everybody in my family is from Cameroon so the impact will be massive there. I want to make all of my family happy.
“I have been in Belgium most of my life. Any time I get a holiday I try to go back to Cameroon because all my family are there. My grandparents are there, I have a lot of cousins and relatives. They all follow me and I try to have a lot of contact with them.
“That’s why everybody is really happy and proud that I have been called up by Cameroon. Everybody called me to say how happy they were. It’s something really big in my family, even more in Africa. The people there live for football so it’s a huge thing for me.
“When I was young I thought I might need to choose. The Belgium national team is very strong now so it is hard to break into that squad. I always wondered who I would choose if both Belgium and Cameroon came for me. My parents are both from Cameroon and I know the impact being called into the Cameroon squad will have.
“I don’t know a lot about the teams we will play. We play against Gambia and I don’t know a lot of their players. Then we play Gabon, who have Aubameyang from Dortmund and other good players from Europe. It will be a good experience for me to see how far I am from this level. I want to show my ability and maybe try to stay in the squad for the next matches.
“You cannot go to international level for nothing. The reason is my performances for Hearts last season. I think Cameroon saw I had a good season, I scored goals, we finished third and qualified for the Europa League. All of these things helped me.
“The coach from the national team told me they had seen my performances and they were happy with that. They started to follow my progress and watch me closely and now I have the chance to go there and prove myself.”
Broos is a wily Belgian who has coached clubs including Trabzonspor, Anderlecht and Club Brugge. He knew of Djoum from his time playing in Belgium. Having fallen off the radar, the player was surprised to see the veteran coach in person at Tynecastle.
“Hugo Broos came to our games against Celtic and Aberdeen. I saw him after our games and spoke with him. He told me they were watching me and that I might be called up,” explained Djoum.
“I watched the announcement live on the internet with my wife and my son and I was really happy when I saw my name in the squad. I felt very proud that I had been recognised by my country.
“A lot of friends and family called me to congratulate me. I went out for dinner with my wife and my son and it was a really nice way to celebrate. I’m very happy to get this opportunity.
“It was unexpected from Cameroon. It came from nowhere. Last season, I think I had a good season and the coaches from Cameroon saw that. I got a lot of confidence from people at the club so I have to say thanks to Hearts for giving me the chance to play here. The gaffer gave my confidence and that’s why I got this call.
“I was surprised but also very happy. These things don’t happen for many players. Lots of players don’t get the chance to play for their country. Cameroon is a big country for football so it is great for me to play with them.”
Cameroon have already qualified for next year’s African Cup of Nations in Gabon, so Broos is ready to experiment. He will use the final qualifier against Gambia and next week’s friendly with the host nation to test out some players in the same position as Djoum.
“I want to win, I like victory,” said Broos. “We are already in a comfortable position because the big work has been done. This gives me an opportunity to use players who have not played much before and experiment with new players.”
Mainstays such as Nicolas Nkoulou, Eyong Enoh, Zoua Jacques, Aurelien Chedjou and Stephane Mbia were told they would not be required for these two fixtures.
The plan is to take one or two new faces forward to the finals if they impress. Djoum could miss vital league matches for Hearts against Celtic, Rangers and Motherwell if he ends up in the squad for the tournament, which takes place between January 14 and February 5 next year.
“We are always on the look-out to find new and good players and build a new team, for now and next year,” added Broos.
“We saw Ndip Tambe at his club [Spartak Trnava in Slovakia]. He scored four goals in five games and it was very interesting. I want to see him here. We also called up four local players because of their qualities. Maybe after the games I can conclude my standards are very high and we will have a good team.
“I was surprised and disappointed to see Cameroon in the third pot for the World Cup qualifiers. Cameroon is not a country to be in the third pot, but rather in the first.”
Djoum’s call-up prompted a fair degree of surprise at Riccarton, though.
“I came to Hearts because I just wanted to play football and have some stability,” he said. “I travelled a lot before I came here so it is a big surprise to now be an international player.
“My team-mates didn’t really believe me when they first heard. They said: ‘No, you’re Belgian. You’re joking.’ They made a lot of jokes but I must thank them because they have helped me every day. The fans have been fantastic also.”
From Jambo to Indomitable Lion, Arnaud Djoum’s resurgence over the last year has been nothing short of remarkable. Few would bet against him taking Cameroon by storm next week.