Armand Gnanduillet: I feel British among 'angry Scots' at Hearts
An eight-year British tour has taken Armand Gnanduillet from Derbyshire to Merseyside, Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire, London, Lancashire and now Edinburgh.
It is little wonder he jokes about applying for UK citizenship. The dreadlocks and heavy French accent indicate his status as a foreigner on these shores, but one who now feels firmly at home in Scotland. He even likes the angry people here.
Gnanduillet landed in the Capital three months ago after a brief and ill-fated spell in Turkey. Hearts are his seventh British club following spells at Chesterfield, Tranmere Rovers, Oxford United, Stevenage, Leyton Orient and Blackpool.
He is contracted at Tynecastle Park until summer 2022 and is eager to showcase his credentials in next season’s Scottish Premiership having helped his new team clinch promotion.
Don’t be surprised if he hangs about a bit longer. The giant French forward moved around constantly since leaving his homeland in 2013. He is content in maroon and feels welcome at Riccarton, even if the morning greetings carry an amusingly stereotypical angry Scottish undertone.
“At the moment I feel well here. I have had some moments in my personal life and in football. I went to South Africa and it didn’t go well. Turkey was the same. So I might ask for British nationality because I feel like I’m British now,” smiles Gnanduillet, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.
“I came here in my early 20s, now I’m 29. My English isn’t too bad. I just need to learn more about Scottish people now. I know the Scottish people are always angry. They are like me.”
He chuckles to himself. He knows enough about Scots to realise there is plenty warmth below the sometimes-gruff exterior. “We laugh because I thought the English people were angry, especially the Scousers. But the Scottish? Wow,” he says.
“Even when they say ‘good morning’ they are angry. It’s funny. I think it just comes from them being hard-working. Sometimes I understand them because I came to this country and had to adapt myself.
“My dad and my mum always told me that, if you want something, you have to work hard. Where I come from, the people all work very hard. I play football and I just want to enjoy it. Signing for Hearts was the best choice for me.
“Clevid Dikamona told me all about Edinburgh and Hearts. He is like a member of family because he looked after me at Le Havre. He was in the first team and I was in the reserves and he was always taking care of me.”
The decision is already justified. Gnanduillet has not long collected a gold winner’s medal from this season’s Scottish Championship and can now officially anticipate stepping into the top flight.
It is his third promotion success in British football after winning League Two with Chesterfield in 2014 and helping Blackpool through the play-offs to reach League One in 2017. This one seems to be just as special.
“Chesterfield was my first club in the UK so it will always have a special place in my heart. Then I have a crazy love story with Blackpool. I was top goalscorer twice there but then I left.
“To win something like this with Hearts is very special. It’s my first time in Scotland. I know it’s a big club in a big city and I am very proud to win this medal with Hearts.
Made for British style
“This means a lot because this season has been very hard for me. I was in the UK for a long time, then I went to Turkey and it didn’t go well. I was very grateful for the opportunity to come to Hearts and I already knew the club because I watch Scottish football.
“I received such a warm welcome and I am thankful to God every day that we finish champions. I wasn’t here since the beginning but I am a part of it. I am very proud of myself because to finish this hard season with a trophy is very important for me.
“All my family and friends in France are very happy for me. I can’t wait for next season. I want to show what I am capable of doing in the Scottish Premiership.”
The general feeling is that Gnanduillet should reach optimum physical condition after a full pre-season programme with Hearts this summer. You could argue that at 6ft 4ins, he is made for the British style.
His game is more than just heading, hustle and bustle, however. He offers decent technique and an impressive turn of pace, plus the ability to both create and score goals.
The attacking partnership between the Frenchman and his Northern Irish colleague, Liam Boyce, is still at the developmental stage. By next season, they should be ready to produce more often if given the required service from midfield and wide areas.
“First, I want to have a good pre-season and get back to my level – technically, physically and mentally. People don’t see your personal life and sometimes don’t realise we are just human beings,” says Gnanduillet.
“Now I am settled down here. I want to know more about the club and the city. I want to focus my mind on scoring goals and giving assists. I think I have four assists and five goals since I came here. I prefer to score, to be honest. I want to become a better player next year.”