Never mind the lowest ebb of his Hearts career, Morgaro Gomis is enduring one of the most difficult periods of his 30 years on the planet.
Until three months ago, everything was going swimmingly for the midfielder. Having been voted Players’ Player of the Year, a near-ever-present, and vice-captain as Hearts romped to the Championship title in his first season at the club, he looked set to continue on an upward trajectory this term when he started every match as Hearts won each of their opening five games on their return to the Premiership.
However, the death of his father, Joachim, on the eve of the September trip to Inverness has left Gomis shattered. The midfielder is still grieving the loss of the main man in his life and he openly admits that his football has suffered as a result. His form has dipped, causing him to lose his hard-earned status as a regular. Amid all this, he has had to contend with being in Paris on the night that 130 people were murdered as his home city was targeted by terrorists just three weeks ago. “It’s not an easy situation at the moment – I’m not having the best time,” he said. “I came back from my dad’s funeral and things changed a little bit after that. I think anybody’s form would be affected by what happened to me. I lost someone who was very important to me. Even now I can’t even speak about it...”
Gomis briefly breaks off to compose himself as his emotions get the better of him.
The usually upbeat midfielder’s state of mind wasn’t helped by the traumatic events that unfolded when he returned home to France to spend a weekend with his family during last month’s international break.
“I went to see my mum because the gaffer gave us a few days off,” he explained. “My family live near Charles de Gaulle [Airport], which is not far from the Stade de France [scene of three suicide vests being detonated]. I was watching the [France v Germany] game and then I changed channels and saw what was happening in Paris. It was crazy because we were only half an hour away from it. Some of my friends were at the game because we are close to Moussa Sissoko [who was playing for France] and he got them tickets. I just stayed at home because I was spending time with my family. My friends were all okay although they were all kept inside the stadium.
“I stayed in Paris until the Monday but I just stayed in the house the whole weekend with my mum, my brother and my sister. We didn’t go anywhere. It was really scary. I went outside just to speak to some of my friends and you could see everybody was shocked. It was all anybody was talking about. Crazy.
“I was a little bit scared even when I had to fly home on the Monday. In the airport, the police were everywhere. I grew up in Paris and lived there until I was 16. It’s a beautiful city and it’s a shame what’s happening at the moment. Scary times.”
Ordinarily Gomis would find some form of escape from his personal turmoil by playing football, but he has been unable to rely on this of late. The form of Arnaud Djoum and the return to fitness of Miguel Pallardo have combined to restrict the out-of-sorts Gomis to only two starts in Hearts’ last seven games.
Remaining as an unused substitute in last weekend’s 2-2 draw at Motherwell was particularly galling for a man clearly in need of an upturn in fortunes.
“I was doing okay at the start of the season, but obviously since my dad passed away things have been difficult for me,” he said. “Football helps take your mind off things so it would be nice to get back playing.
“I know my form is not there yet. I’m not having a good season. I have to be honest with myself, I’m not playing well. I just need to get back to my best.
“It was frustrating not getting on against Motherwell. I’m not happy being on the bench, I don’t like it. I need to get back to my best to get back in the team. I’m working hard in training to do that. I’ve had a few conversations with the gaffer but that’s between me and him.
“It’s not nice when you’re not playing but I’ve been in this situation before at Birmingham and Dundee United as well. I’m used to competition – that’s nothing new to me. Arnaud and Miguel are good players but I don’t look at them and think ‘oh no, I can’t get back in the team.’ I know I’m good enough to play – I just need to get back to my best and start playing again.
“It’s not going to be easy because we’ve got so many good players but I just need to stay patient and when the manager gives me a chance, make sure I grab it.
“I just need to get back to doing the simple things again and hopefully things will be good again. I just need to get back playing.”