Arnaud Djoum feels Scottish football has brought out the best in him after a blistering start to his Hearts career was rewarded with a contract extension.
Just six weeks ago, on the eve of the Ross County home game in late October, Djoum was featured in the Evening News acknowledging that time was running out in his bid to have his short-term deal extended beyond January. By that point, the Belgian midfielder’s only outing in his first month at the club had been a ten-minute cameo in the goalless draw at Celtic Park in September.
Djoum’s impact since then, however, has been emphatic. In just five starts for the club, he has won over the Hearts support with some dominant midfield displays and established himself as one of the first names on Robbie Neilson’s team sheet. The plundering of three goals in this time has come as an added bonus for a 26-year-old who had previously netted only ten times in his entire career.
Having braced himself mentally for a battle to secure his long-term future, Djoum admits he has surprised himself at just how quickly he has managed to earn a contract extension after it was confirmed yesterday that he has now signed a deal until May 2017. “When I first signed here, I didn’t expect to be talking about a new contract until January,” said the Belgian. “I’m surprised at how fast things have happened for me, but I’m very happy. It was not a difficult choice to sign here as I enjoy playing here.
“I wanted to show myself to the coach and the club and to prove that I could play in Scotland and be a good player. I have adapted very well and it couldn’t have happened any better for me. I’ve been surprised at how well I’ve done because I didn’t have a proper pre-season. Here, I only trained for one month and then I got in the team and started playing well and scoring goals. I was surprised I was able to do that so quickly because it’s not easy. I need to work hard to keep it like this. I think I can still get better though because my fitness can still be better. I will work hard to get there.”
Djoum, who had previously spent the bulk of his senior career with Roda JC in Holland, believes his impressive start to life at Hearts has been aided by the fact he feels his qualities are perfectly suited to the high-tempo nature of Scottish football. “It is more physical in Scotland and people work harder here,” he explained. “The game is faster here and teams like to attack more. It is not like other countries. In Holland they like to keep the ball and pass the ball a lot before you attack and they are more patient.
“In Scotland they like to score goals as fast as possible and that is the main difference in this league. For me, it is more fun to play in Scotland. I think you can see that with the way I’m playing. I prefer to play this kind of football.”
Djoum has savoured the adulation that has come his way as a result of his strong start to his Hearts career. “One of the best things about here is the supporters and the feeling you get when you play at Tynecastle,” he explained. “That is one of the best things that have happened to me in my career. That has never happened to me before and the supporters are very nice.
“When you score goals the fans sing your name, and I think I have a song already. That feeling is amazing and I have never had that before and that is why I was happy to sign a new contract with Hearts.”
Djoum has settled well in Edinburgh since he arrived in September, but he will feel even more at home now that his future is secure beyond January and he is able to move his wife and one-year-old son Nolan over from Brussels. The strain of being away from his family has been heightened in recent weeks by the terror threat surrounding the Belgian capital in recent weeks.
“My family will come over next week and hey will stay with me here now that I have signed a longer contract,” he said. “It’s been difficult being away from my family. I’m really happy that they can come over and I’m going to see my son every day. That’s really important to me. I can do FaceTime but it’s not the same.
“It’s been difficult being far away from everybody with everything that’s been going on [in Brussels]. Now it’s more calm, but it’s still not easy. I’m happy that they’re going to come here because it doesn’t seem to be such a problem in Scotland. Edinburgh is a really nice city and for Christmas I have heard there is a lot of lights and that it is really beautiful. I will be going with my wife and my son to see that.”
Djoum was in jovial mood as he reflected on his new contract with the media yesterday and he is sure to become further contented if he and his team can continue their impressive form. Hearts are currently third in the Premiership and the midfielder senses something special brewing at Tynecastle. “We have a good team with a lot of good young players like Jamie Walker and Sam Nicholson and I think they’ll get better in time,” he said. “Also with the experienced players in the side I think we can achieve something. You just have to work hard but I see in this team a lot of quality and I think in the next two years we can do great things.
“We have a great coach and he helps us a lot to work hard and fight and play good football. I think we can do something in this league. We started the league with a lot of new players but we won a lot of games and the start was good. With more connecting, we can play better and play better football. We’re going to get better and with that for sure we can challenge at the top of the Scottish league. Celtic are a really big team but we are not so far from them at the moment.
“I think we have talented players and I see the quality in training every day. I think a team like Aberdeen have been together for some time and have played a lot of games and they have more experience, but I think we can do something good, which is why I’m happy to be here and to help be part of something with this club.”