Brazil to Paisley: A week's football for Hearts midfielder Arnaud Djoum
From Brazil, Neymar and the Samba to St Mirren away in Paisley. That is the stark contrast facing Hearts midfielder Arnaud Djoum as he goes from international duty with Cameroon back to Ladbrokes Premiership reality.
Yesterday he flew out of Edinburgh destined for Casablanca, where Cameroon face Morocco in a friendly on Friday night. Then it’s back to Britain to take on the famous yellow, blue and green juggernaut – complete with world luminaries like Philippe Coutinho, Douglas Costa, Gabriel Jesus and Marcelo.
Brazil’s friendly with Cameroon takes place at stadium mk in Milton Keynes a week tonight. Four days later, Djoum will find himself in the middle of an almighty scrap with one of the Premiership’s relegation favourites. He offers a wry chuckle at the divergence of playing Brazil and St Mirren back-to-back.
“That’s football. You need to take every game like a good professional,” says the 29-year-old, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “It is good to play against big players but when I go back to Hearts I really need to be focused. The last few weeks have been tough and St Mirren is going to be important for us to get back to winning.
“Playing Brazil is a little bit like a dream. You normally only see these guys in the Champions League or big international games on television. To play against them will be something special for me and I’m really excited. I will try to just enjoy the moment because this kind of experience doesn’t happen too often in your career.
“I was happy when I saw the game is close to London. Afterwards, I can just go back to Edinburgh and get ready for the next game with Hearts. I don’t need to travel back from Brazil or Cameroon or have a ten-hour flights. The timing is perfect for me.”
After tenaciously fighting back from six months out with a snapped Achilles tendon, Djoum is entitled to feel he has earned his place opposite such footballing royalty. This is his first Cameroon call-up since that horrible moment when he collapsed on the turf at Ross County in February. It has been an arduous process to return, so he can feel his place against graniose opposition is justified.
“Maybe, yeah. You know me, I’m a hard worker. My mentality is always to work hard and try to always give my best. Maybe I deserve this. I always think that good things will come to you if you work hard. That’s what I’ve done and now I’m just happy to be there.
“I am away with Cameroon and I try to think more about that for the next week. It has been a while since I was selected but I am back in the squad now and I’m happy about that.
“These are nice games against Morocco and Brazil. It will be a good experience for me to play against these players.”
The highlight of Djoum’s career remains last year’s Africa Cup of Nations victory with his country. He will forever be idolised as a sporting legend in Cameroon as a result, and he was welcomed back into the national fold with open arms. This is his first time working with new coach Clarence Seedorf, a man who knows a thing or two about football superstardom himself.
“It’s not easy because Cameroon have a lot of good players playing all over the world, in Europe and elsewhere,” says Djoum.
“It was tough being out but I was not even thinking about being called up again. When I saw my name I was really pleased and proud because I have come so far from a really long injury. I’m really proud about that and now I just want to go out and enjoy playing for my country.”
Hearts’ recent results haven’t brought much pleasure for Djoum or his club colleagues. The midfielder is satisfied with his own contribution despite three defeats and a draw in the last four matches. He feels he is now recapturing top form after such a lengthy absence.
“I feel much better. I played in [central] midfield again on Saturday, so I feel more comfortable. You touch the ball more in there so I can try to create chances. I’m happy with my form now. I just want to continue and get better results and maybe score more goals myself as well.”
He welcomes the international break and the chance to focus on other tasks. The last few weeks at Riccarton have been testing with Hearts displaced at top of the Premiership for the first time this season as a result of weekend scorelines.
The 1-0 home defeat by Kilmarnock left everyone inside Tynecastle Park bursting with frustration, so the distraction of international business is a useful one for Djoum at this precise moment.
“It’s good for me to have a break, just to change my mind a little bit and come back fresh,” he explains. “It’s a break for everyone and that will be good because the last two weeks have been tough for us.
“There have been a lot of hard results so I think this break has come at a good time. Everyone can go back home or go to the national team, think about other things and then come back fresh for the rest of the season.”
He can’t afford to dwell on Saturday’s events too much given the magnitude of Cameroon’s forthcoming opponents – one in particular.
Nonetheless, he acknowledges Hearts’ need for more of a spark in the final third of the pitch. That issue may well be addressed on the training pitch whilst Djoum and others are off attending to international business.
“It was a frustrating afternoon for us on Saturday. We dominated the game and had more possession, but we didn’t create enough chances.
“Kilmarnock were sitting very deep and waiting for us on the edge of the box. Then they played on the counter-attack. It was hard for us to find the right passes and combinations in the final third. I think we made a lot of bad choices in that area and that was our main difficulty.”