Arnaud Djoum has thanked Hearts team-mate John Souttar for helping him overcome the first major injury of his career.
The Cameroon midfielder is thrilled and relieved to have completed the long and mentally-testing journey back to fitness and first-team contention after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon away to Ross County seven months ago.
Souttar fought back from the same horror injury in the first half of 2017 and has since taken his game to a new level and forced his way into the full Scotland squad. Djoum was given guidance and support from his team-mate throughout his rehabilitation and also took plenty inspiration from how strongly the 21-year-old had recovered.
“I’m not really surprised by how quickly I am back because John had the same injury and took around five or six months to get back to fitness, so that is what I expected as well,” said Djoum. “I knew if I did a good rehab that I would be back in good time.
“John was a big help to me. I asked him a lot of questions about the rehab and what I needed to do to come back stronger, so I can thank him for that. It is good to have someone who has been through the same injury before and can help you. You see how strongly he has come back from this injury, he is playing his best football now and is in the national team so that gives me a lot of inspiration.”
Djoum, who was just starting to rediscover his best form after a couple of relatively minor injuries when he was floored in February, admitted the psychological effect of being sidelined long term was as damaging as any physical pain. “The mental aspect is the toughest thing, because you see the team on the pitch and you want to be there,” he said. “You have to sit at home and you cannot do what you love to do. It is not so much a physical thing because you don’t really feel pain, it is just the challenge of being patient.
“It was my first serious injury. I’m 29, so it is a late one, but it happens. It is behind me now and I am happy. It was hard for me because last season that was not my only injury, I had a few, and it was very tough mentally. Thankfully my family were there to support me. They knew when to talk to me and when to leave me alone! When you have kids and your wife it is much easier because you can think about different things other than football and being injured. That is really important.”
Prior to his injury, Djoum was a guaranteed starter at Hearts whenever fit. The turnaround in players over the summer plus the team’s impressive start to the season means that is no longer the case. “I feel like a new player,” he said. “When I look around the dressing room and see all the names, I feel like the new signing. It is so different now. I need to start again. But the people at the club know what I am capable of and my qualities. I need to work hard to fight for my place because there are a lot of good players in the team. The main thing I want is just to be fit and feel good in training. That is the first part I want to do. I just want to enjoy football again.”
Djoum made his first return to action as a late substitute in the 4-1 win over St Mirren a fortnight ago and admits he should have been sent off for a bad tackle on Ryan Flynn just three minutes after entering the field. “It was a pretty bad tackle, it probably deserved a red card,” he said. “I was lucky I didn’t get it, I was just so excited after so long out; it was Tynecastle and my emotions were high because I was so happy to be back. It was a good feeling and the support I got from the fans was special. I need to thank them too because they’re really great and supportive with me. They gave me lot of messages when I was out with the injury and that was nice for me.”
Djoum is also determined to work his way back into the Cameroon squad following the recent appointment of Dutch icon Clarence Seedorf as manager. “When I heard Clarence Seedorf’s name it was a big surprise, but it is fantastic for Cameroonian football to have such a big personality and great player as the coach,” he said. “I need to start fresh, build-up and hopefully show him what I can do. Hopefully he will call me in the future.”
Djoum is delighted to see Craig Levein, with the Hearts manager hopeful of returning to the dugout against Motherwell at Fir Park today, three weeks after he was hospitalised following a heart scare. “I have known him for a long time – for as long as I’ve been here, he’s been here – and he is so important for us all,” said Djoum. “All the players are very happy to see him back and hopefully he is on the bench at Motherwell.”