THE Hearts No.10 shirt pales into insignificance with that of Zinedine Zidane’s iconic France No.10 jersey. However, for Arnaud Djoum, wearing it is akin to following in his hero’s footsteps this season.
The Belgian midfielder signed a two-year extension to his contract yesterday, meaning he is tied to Tynecastle until May 2019. He was given the No.10 squad number when pre-season training began and instantly drew inspiration from his idol.
Hearts fans will hope Djoum can be their version of Zidane tomorrow when Celtic arrive in Edinburgh to begin their Ladbrokes Premiership title defence. The 27-year-old welcomes the authority which comes with wearing a one and a zero on your back.
“I’m wearing number ten this year and that gives me a lot of responsibility in the team, but that is good,” he said. “When you play football you like to feel like this in the team, to get a lot of confidence and responsibility.
“Zinedine Zidane was my idol, always, so to wear this number gives me a lot of confidence. He wasn’t bad, so I am really happy to wear this number for such a good club.
“I don’t know if I will play in the number ten role all season, I will play where the gaffer wants me to play. I can also play the number eight, which is more box-to-box. It’s the first time I have worn the number ten, so it gives me a lot of responsibility. I will try to play well and make the difference for the team.”
Did he ask to wear the No.10, vacated when Osman Sow was sold to China in February? “It was a little bit of both,” laughed the player, before explaining why extending his Hearts contract was a straightforward decision. “It was an easy choice because we spoke before the holidays but I wanted to wait a little bit until we came back,” continued Djoum. “It was an easy decision because I feel really well here. I have the support of the fans and confidence from the gaffer and from my team-mates, staff and everybody.”
He came to Edinburgh last September as a free agent seeking stability after a year in Turkey and six months in Poland. His initial short-term deal was extended in December and the latest contract sees him firmly commit his future to Hearts.
“I feel really good here, I’m really happy to be here and to sign this new deal,” said Djoum. “Now I have good stability in my career because in the years before I have travelled a lot. So, now it is good that I can find a place to be and to just play football.
“The club has a good future because everybody is going forward and getting better and better – in every aspect. There is going to be the new stand and everything. I want to be part of it. I think the club can have a good future and I want to be with the club.”
Ultimately, Djoum has his sights fixed on a title challenge with Hearts. He concedes that might take a little more time but feels the foundations are already in place.
“Last season we finished third and I think the club is now in the position to go higher and higher. Next year, we will try to challenge the top two, maybe challenge for the title. I think that’s an achievable objective for the club in the next year.
“It will be really difficult. We just have to do it step by step. The new stand and then better players will come and things like that. It will take time but I think the club has a good base to achieve this.”
Last season’s progress continued a remarkable upward trajectory at Hearts. Their vast recovery from administration in the last two years offers some encouragement that they might mount a title challenge in the near future.
“When you come up from the Championship, not a lot of people expect you to finish third directly. That was a bit of a surprise,” admitted Djoum. “Now we have to confirm that was not a one-off, that we were lucky or anything like that. We have to show we are a good team and we can compete for a top-three place in this league. I think we can do that.”