Fir Park first – then Hearts ace Djoum is in for long haul

A demanding journey from Edinburgh to Algeria and back again lies in wait for Hearts' Cameroon midfielder Arnaud Djoum
A demanding journey from Edinburgh to Algeria and back again lies in wait for Hearts' Cameroon midfielder Arnaud Djoum
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FROM Motherwell to Edinburgh, to Brussels, to Marseille, to Algiers, to Blida, to Istanbul and back to Edinburgh.

That is the gruelling journey Hearts midfielder Arnaud Djoum faces following tonight’s match at Fir Park as he joins the Cameroon squad for a World Cup qualifier.

Djoum will spend the next nine days travelling through North and Western Europe to North Africa, then head home via Turkey. The trip will leave him exhausted but he accepts it is a necessary part of international football.

So strong is his desire to represent Cameroon, the land of his birth and the country where most of his family still live, that he would probably fly to the other side of the world if necessary.

Djoum will undertake a key role for Hearts in tonight’s Ladbrokes Premiership match against Motherwell and then prepare for nine days of aeroplanes, hotel rooms and training grounds.

“I will go back to Edinburgh tonight,” he explained to the Evening News. “Tomorrow morning, I travel to Brussels because I have one day when I get to see my family there. On Sunday, I go directly to Marseille because Cameroon are doing all our preparation there for the game against Algeria.

“We are going to train in the Marseille training complex and we will play a friendly match against Marseille on Wednesday. That will be a good build-up match for us. We will be in Marseille for one week. On Friday, we fly to Algeria and we will train in the stadium in Blida on Saturday.

“The game against Algeria is on Sunday, so everything is working towards that. Then I have to go from Algeria to Istanbul and back to Edinburgh.”

Djoum can expect a reasonable amount of recuperation time once he arrives back in Scotland. After facing Algeria on Sunday, October 9, Hearts’ next match is not until six days later. His first Cameroon cap came earlier this month but involved an even more taxing trip to the town of Limbe on the country’s west coast.

“This time is better than last time because I will get more rest,” he continued. “Last time I played on the Tuesday in Cameroon, which is very far away, and then had to get back to Scotland. This time the game is on Sunday in Algeria and that is closer to Scotland. I will have a week to recover.”

The player admits he is still adapting to the hectic nature of international football. Until last month, he got time off whenever international break came round. He isn’t complaining. The chance to face some of the world’s top players, like Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez this weekend, isn’t to be missed.

“I’m not used to it because normally I get a break,” he smiled. “I have had a lot of games in the last month, and remember we started early at Hearts this season because of European football.

“This kind of thing in football is really hard to handle. You have to rest a lot when you are home. The next week will be really hard for me but when you play football, you want to play for your country.

“I am going to be involved against a big country like Algeria with players like Mahrez. You don’t get a lot of rest so you must try to recover a lot and eat healthy.

“I think everybody dreams about playing for their country. Every player wants that. It’s a really nice honour but you need to have a lot of energy because there are a lot of demands on you. Also, you must play well in every game because when you play badly, even here at Hearts, you receive criticism and people are talking about your game.

“I am playing a lot of games and sometimes it’s hard for me. I try to work hard and give everything I can. I feel good just now.”

When fatigue does take hold, Djoum and other internationalists at Hearts know they can count on head coach Robbie Neilson to grant them the time off required.

“The gaffer is a really good coach because he tries to help the international players,” explained Djoum. “After I played against Gabon, I played 60 minutes in the next game for Hearts against Hamilton. Then, in the following game, I didn’t play from the start. The gaffer has tried to handle it by giving me rest. He gave the international players three days off to rest after the Hamilton game.

“If we feel tired we can talk to him. That’s why it is very good to have a coach like that who you can speak to. Robbie understands that sometimes you need to rest when you come back from playing for your country.”

First on the agenda is tonight’s engagement in Lanarkshire. Motherwell’s record of only one win their last seven matches has caused their scintillating start to the campaign to tail off somewhat. However, they remain fifth in the league table, two points behind third-placed Hearts.

The Edinburgh club have endured difficulties of their own recently, with no goals scored in their last two games. Strikers are not finding the net as regular as hoped, although there has been no shortage of scoring chances created.

Neilson has spent much of this week working on finishing with his players during training sessions at Riccarton.

“The difference is the small details. We have to score goals but we are playing well and creating chances,” said Djoum. “I think we have created more chances than anyone after Celtic so we just need to start scoring. We have worked hard in training to score goals and finish games off.”

Three points would propel Hearts back into second place, with Aberdeen not due to play until tomorrow. Winning at Fir Park is no mean feat, for only once in the last eight years have Hearts enjoyed a victory there.

“I think now, in Scotland, there are no easy games,” said Djoum. “Motherwell are strong at home with the fans behind them but we have the quality to go there and get a win. You want a win before the international break and I think we can do this.

“The players don’t speak too much about not scoring. We know what we have to do. It’s not a really big problem. It is better to have this problem than not to create chances. I think we are 80 per cent there and the other 20 per cent will come.”

Celtic remain the benchmark on pretty much every level for their fellow Premiership teams. Djoum has noted how their forwards convert chances with a ruthlessness that sets them apart from all others in Scotland. The midfielder is keen for Hearts to prove they can be just as clinical in the final third of the pitch.

“I think that’s the difference with big teams. A team like Celtic, when they have two chances they score two goals. We need to try to reach that level. If we create three chances, we need to score two or three. Then Hearts will be a better team.”