Arnaud Djoum paraded his African Cup of Nations winner’s medal in the Hearts dressing-room earlier this week. Now he is desperate to ensure it is not the only gong at Tynecastle this season.
The midfielder became a national icon by helping Cameroon win the AFCON 2017 tournament in Gabon earlier this month and returned to Edinburgh to a hero’s welcome.
As Hearts challenge in the Ladbrokes Premiership and William Hill Scottish Cup, Djoum is betting on there being more silverware to show off.
“My medal is at home now. I brought it here yesterday to show to the guys and to the people here but now it is home and I will keep it in a safe place. They asked to see it so I brought it in to show to the players,” Djoum smiled proudly.
“I hope it’s not the only medal we have. We are still alive in the cup and we will do everything to get to the final. We will do everything we can.”
Djoum hurried back to Scotland despite the fact the party in his homeland has still to fully die down. He was desperate to rejoin Hearts and help the quest for success, which continues with this afternoon’s league match at home to Inverness. It’s also considerably safer for the player here than in Africa.
“We cannot walk the street because if people recognise you there will be 50 people round asking for photos and things. It’s really hard but that’s our popularity there.
“The fans went crazy. Normally, it takes 20 minutes from the airport to the hotel but it took us five hours when we arrived home. Everything was closed, the crowd was in the streets and the bus had to drive through the fans. The people were so happy and it’s something big there. Nobody was expecting that from us, even the Cameroon people.”
Even the Cameroonian side of Djoum’s family are being treated like celebrities. “They are very happy and proud because it’s something big for them. Now, when they go in the street and people recognise they are my family, there are always 20 people round them asking questions and things. It’s so crazy and it’s still like this just now.”
Djoum isn’t too carried away to reflect on the fact his life has totally transformed over the last 18 months. Prior to joining Hearts, he spent months without a club after being released by the Polish side Lech Poznan. The move to Tynecastle sparked a rise to prominence which climaxed in Gabon when Cameroon beat Egypt to lift the African Cup of Nations trophy.
“Yeah, in football things can change so quickly,” continued the 27-year-old. “What I have done in a year and a half is something crazy, I could write a book. It’s just crazy, I still don’t believe it. I think later I will realise what I have done and what I will continue to do as well. It has been a big achievement.”
Did he ever feel football had forgotten him during those soulless months spent searching for employment? “Not really. I was always sure I would find something, maybe in the lower divisions, and I would get back, work hard and maybe things will be better.
“I never thought about stopping football because it is my passion, what I want to do, what I like. So I was sure if I worked hard then things would become better. That’s what I did and everything has worked out.”
Despite the intense pressure of trying to win one of world football’s biggest competitions on an entirely different continent, Djoum was determined to keep tabs on every portion of news emanating from Tynecastle. He would have been forgiven for a deep intake of breath when nine new signings arrived while he was away.
“I was trying to follow everything on the internet. I was a little bit surprised because it was a lot of changes,” he laughed. “I didn’t expect that but it’s football. If it’s good for the team, I’m happy about it. Competition is always good.
“It’s normal that you worry a bit about your place but I was confident. With what I did here, I think I get some respect. What I do for the team I think is good. I knew I had to come back and just work hard and things would go well for me. Competition is good to play better football.
“I watched the second half of the Hearts-Rangers game because a supporter put it on Facebook live. I was lucky he did that so I tried to watch it. The team played well and it was a great win so I was very happy.”
His ambition now knows no bounds following the international success. However, Djoum is in no rush to leave Tynecastle, where his contract runs until May 2019. “You want to play at as high a level as possible. You always believe that in the future you can go and play better football, at a better club.
“That’s football but we will see how I am with Hearts. I am enjoying it here, and we will see in the future.”
• Arnaud Djoum was promoting Big Hearts Supporters, which sees Tynecastle fans devote their time to the club’s charity. Over 1250 have signed up so far at www.bighearts.org.uk