Clevid Dikamona opens up on his place in Hearts squad, honest Craig Levein conversation and training level
Even for Clévid Dikamona, who prides himself on being a team player, five months without starting a match for Hearts was beginning to take a toll.
The Congolese centre-back has enough humility and self-awareness to know that he is unlikely to be a first choice at Tynecastle when competing with the likes of Christophe Berra, John Souttar and Craig Halkett for a centre-back berth.
But for a man who loves putting his body on the line for his team, he was becoming demoralised at watching helplessly from the sidelines as Hearts slumped towards the bottom of the Premiership table.
The 29-year-old concedes his form in training had dipped as a result, but an honest conversation with manager Craig Levein last week, just days after he had failed to make the squad for the trip to St Mirren, raised his spirits and helped him refocus. A return to the starting lineup against Kilmarnock on Saturday, for the first time since the 2-1 defeat away to Aberdeen in the penultimate league game of last season, has given Dikamona renewed impetus – although he is rueful that his chance has come at the expense of another injured colleague in Craig Halkett.
“It was my first time in the starting line-up, but unfortunately it is because we have lost another player, with Craig being injured,” Dikamona told the Evening News. “I know my position in this team. I know I have to work hard to be fit for the moment the gaffer needs me. Maybe I could have been in the team before now but I’m the only one to blame for that because perhaps I was not fit enough to be in the first XI. I don’t know if I’ve shown enough to the gaffer in training.
“After St Mirren, when I wasn’t even in the squad, I spoke with the gaffer and he told me what he expects from me. That’s why I say I am the only one I can blame for not being in the team. When the gaffer told me he felt I hadn’t done enough in training, I accepted that because, to be honest, I had found the previous few weeks frustrating. I had been on the bench, the team were not getting the results we wanted and we were conceding goals so I was probably a little bit frustrated and demoralised and I had lost my way a little in the training. That’s why I’m happy that after the St Mirren game, the gaffer took time to speak with me.
“He came to me. I’m not the type of guy to go to the gaffer’s office and ask why I am not playing. I’m a professional player and I’m experienced so I know how to analyse a situation. I knew at that time it was not my moment to play. But the gaffer came to me after Craig was injured against St Mirren, told me what he expected of me and told me to be ready. After that, I knew I had to work harder to give my best and that’s what I did last week. Now I’m in the first XI but I have to do everything I can to stay in the team.”
As frustrating as he has found it being restricted to only two substitute outings this season prior to Saturday’s start, Dikamona accepts the reasons for his lack of game time. “Of course, I understand the situation here,” he said. “In football everyone wants to play, but I understand that John is one of the best defenders in Scotland and Craig is going the same way. Everyone knows the experience of Christophe and also he is the skipper of the team. I know that in this position we have strong players and I have to work very hard to be in the starting XI.
“Of course this is an opportunity for me (with Halkett and Souttar injured) but I’m a team player and if the best XI for Hearts is with me on the bench, that’s OK. I will do everything to play in this team. If John comes back from injury, but I deserve to play then I won’t say to the gaffer just to put John back in.
“But I know that when John is 100 per cent fit, he is better than me. This is not a problem for me, I know that. But I have to do everything I can to try and stay in the team. If I give my best, it will help the team because John will have to give his best to get back in the team.
“I know I’m good enough to play in this team. I did it before when we were top of the league a year ago. But if we are to have the strongest team possible, I have to be honest and say yes, maybe, John, Craig and the skip will be in front of me. I know I’m good enough to play here and for many teams in Scotland but that’s why we have a strong squad. It means that we have players like myself, Olly Bozanic and Steven MacLean who can come in off the bench. That’s why I believe when we get our players back from injury we will win lots of games in a row and we will be better.”