You get an unequivocal response from Arnaud Djoum to any question about his future. Despite rumours he may seek an exit from Hearts this summer after a disappointing campaign, the Cameroon internationalist is quite definite about staying at Tynecastle.
His contract runs until summer 2019 and he is a prized asset in Gorgie. His value rose considerably when he helped Cameroon win the Africa Cup of Nations in February. At club level, he doesn’t hide the fact season 2016/17 has been unfulfilling.
Djoum is convinced Hearts will be back stronger next year, with European qualification now looking unlikely this summer. The Edinburgh club are fifth in the Ladbrokes Premiership after Saturday’s 2-2 home draw against Partick Thistle. They must overhaul a six-point gap in the remaining four matches to usurp St Johnstone and take fourth place, which permits entry to the Europa League qualifying rounds.
It is a tall order indeed and Djoum is already looking ahead. He acknowledges the need for astute and sensible recruitment by the club hierarchy and admits sympathy with supporters disgruntled at results. None of it would make him consider asking for a transfer, though.
“I still have two years here so I’m focused 100 per cent on Hearts. I’ll be doing my best and hopefully next season we can have a better season,” he told the Evening News.
“I know it’s hard for the fans. I always say to them to be patient but it’s hard for them to see their team not winning all the time. I want them to continue to support us and we will give 100 per cent. It’s not like we don’t care about the team or letting the team down. We are going to work harder and for sure next season will be much, much better.”
The 27-year-old is keen to see players of the required quality arrive at Tynecastle over the coming weeks. Several players will depart when their contracts expire at the end of the month and head coach Ian Cathro and director of football Craig Levein are already working to replenish the squad.
“I hope so. This is the work of the coaches, the staff and the directors,” said Djoum. “I hope they know what they are doing, I’m sure about that. I think they will bring good players even if we are not in the Europa League. I think they will bring players to help us compete for the top places.
“The facilities here are good, so they can attract players here. You see the stadium and the training ground, the indoor pitch and stuff like that. When you are a player and you see a club like this, good players want to come.”
Not achieving a European place would be seen as a disappointment, but it would also give Cathro more time to prepare his squad and help integrate new players. Hearts’ first competitive outing next season would be a Betfred Cup tie on July 15 if they don’t have Europa League qualifiers to contend with at the end of June.
“This pre-season will be important for us to have good preparations, to work together and know how the coach wants us to play,” said Djoum. “On Saturday, we played a good game and I think, if we played that game ten times, we would win nine times. We should have won 2-0 or 3-0. It’s just little details and if we can pay attention to this, we will be a great team.”
Not that Djoum or any of his colleagues are resigned to failure in their European quest. Their four remaining matches are at home to Aberdeen and then away to St Johnstone, Rangers and Celtic. They know the odds are stacked against them but no-one is ready to concede anything.
“The gap is now six points so I think it will be hard,” admitted Djoum. “We still have to believe because there are still four games to play and we have to play against St Johnstone, who are above us. It’s disappointing to be in this position but as a professional footballer you always want to play for something.
“We don’t want to play four games for nothing. We will try to finish strongly in these last four games, win as many as possible and try to catch St Johnstone.”
Beating Partick Thistle at the weekend would have helped Hearts keep pace with their Perth rivals. As it was, the ten-man Firhill side would have won the game but for Andraz Struna’s equaliser on 87 minutes. Djoum is convinced Hearts should have taken three points given the number of scoring chances created.
“That’s the thing. Everybody is disappointed about that. We created a lot of chances and controlled the game,” he said. “We know Partick had some quality but I think we had more and we had more control. We had enough chances to win this game when they had ten men, that’s why we are really disappointed about the result.
“The positive is the chances we created because, in the last few games, we did not create so many. On Saturday, we showed we have the quality to make chances. We just need to score goals.
“The negatives were the two goals we conceded. Partick had three or four chances and they scored two. I think we have to work on how to finish our attacks and how to stop the small mistakes that gave them two goals.
“I think it’s down to a little bit of everything. Part of it is concentration and focus. We learn every day about our mistakes and in a game you will always make mistakes. Nobody is perfect and you don’t play the perfect game. We just have to try to make less mistakes and score more goals.”