Arnaud Djoum knows the clock is ticking. He potentially has just three months left as a Hearts player, but intends to make sure that isn’t the case, starting tomorrow against Ross County.
The Belgian midfielder has been on the bench for each of his new club’s four matches since signing a short-term contract on the eve of the League Cup win at Kilmarnock, but has made only one ten-minute appearance – away to Celtic – so far.
While stepping up his fitness in training and Under-20s matches over the past month or so, the Belgian midfielder has had his appetite whetted by being part of the match-day squad as Hearts have embarked on a four-game unbeaten run.
Now he wants to get himself into the thick of the action and start proving to head coach Robbie Neilson and director of football Craig Levein that he is worthy of a contract extension at a club where he already feels content. “I’m happy here,” Djoum told the Evening News.
“The first weeks here have been very good. Everyone has made me feel welcome and the training has been good. I’ve had to be patient but it has all gone well. I feel like I have done well in training and in the Under-20s. The game on Monday [against St Johnstone] was probably my best here because I am fitter now. I feel like I need time to play now to show myself.”
Aside from posing on the pitch with a scarf above his head when he signed, Djoum’s only other notable experience of Tynecastle was as an unused substitute in the 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock three weeks ago. Despite the disappointment at seeing his team drop points, the sense of occasion as another bumper crowd rocked up in Gorgie made a positive impression on the 26-year-old and left him desperate to make his home debut against on-song County in tomorrow’s third v fourth Premiership showdown.
“I’m very excited to get my first minutes on the Tynecastle pitch in front of the supporters,” he said. “I hope that happens this weekend because I am ready for it. I like the stadium and the atmosphere. I was on the bench for the last game here and the atmosphere was very good. It is also a very nice pitch. I think it is good that I’ve been on the bench for a game before I played here as I’ve now seen everything so it means I know what to expect.”
Even though it has so far prevented him starting for Hearts, Djoum has been impressed with the calibre of his new team-mates, notably in his own position, where Neilson has been spoilt for choice in recent matches. “We have a lot of good midfielders here,” said Djoum. “Morgaro Gomis, Miguel Pallardo, Prince Buaben - they are all good players so I have to work very hard to show I can play this position. That is what I have tried to do. If you are in any good team, you will always have a lot of good players for the same position. That is what you want.
“I have been impressed with the team so far. We have a lot of qualities in this team and I think we can do something good. The people are very good here.”
Djoum’s only first-team action for Hearts came at the end of the goalless draw away to Celtic four weeks ago. “I wasn’t 100 per cent fit back then, but I was OK to play ten minutes and that’s why the coach felt it was right to put me on and try to stop Celtic scoring. I was happy to get on because it was a big stadium with a big atmosphere against a good team. It was a hard game to go straight into but I was happy to get my first experience of Scottish football there. We got a good result and I was happy to be part of that because I’d heard that it had been a long time since the team hadn’t lost at Celtic Park. Everybody was happy afterwards and I was happy too.”
The former Roda JC and Lech Poznan player feels settled in his new environment, even though his family have stayed behind in Belgium. He hopes to get the all-clear to bring them to Edinburgh in the near future, contract situation permitting.
“My wife and son are staying in Brussels for now,” said Djoum. “They come over for a few days to visit. I stay here alone for the moment but I’m used to that because I have played in a lot of different countries in the last few years – Holland, Turkey, Poland and now Scotland. My family sometimes come with me but because my contract is just until January, there is no point in me bringing them over just now. Maybe if I get a longer contract they will move over here.
“I like Edinburgh – it’s a nice, quiet city with good people. It’s very calm and not too many crazy things happen here. I am a quiet person so that suits me. When I’m finished with football, I like to just go home and chill. My team-mates have shown me around the city. I knew Soufian [El Hassnaoui] and Alim [Ozturk] from playing in Holland so they have helped me settle in. Prince has also been good with me. He played with Ajax and I have friends who played with Ajax who told me about him so that’s how I knew of him. I like it here.”