Problems at Hearts and problems with Cameroon, but Arnaud Djoum’s motivation is undiminished.
He will continue working to eradicate inconsistent results at club level starting on Sunday against Celtic. Despite going without food due to unpaid bills on international duty this week, he will also never lose his desire to represent the Indomitible Lions.
The midfielder returned to Edinburgh on Wednesday from a fairly shambolic stay with his Cameroon colleagues. Just two months ago, they were celebrating as the newly-crowned Africa Cup of Nations winners, yet head coach Hugo Broos spoke out to declare he is now considering his future due to ongoing disorganisation.
His squad had no lunch before Tuesday night’s friendly against Guinea in Brussels as a member of the Cameroon Football Federation [Fecafoot] staff failed to pay the hotel bill. It is no surprise they lost 2-1 that evening, but Djoum must now forget what ensued given Hearts have their own issues to attend to after just five wins in 18 games. It is easier said than done.
“The Federation didn’t pay the hotel bill. It’s not the way to prepare for a game,” admitted Djoum. “Everything must be organised on matchday but on Tuesday, because they didn’t pay the hotel, the hotel didn’t make food for us. We didn’t get any food at lunchtime. It’s quite difficult to prepare for a game in this way.
“I think they resolved the problem and we ate around 3pm before the game. It was only one meal. The plan was to have one at lunch and one late afternoon. The players were not 100 per cent focused because there were so many problems before the game. It made things harder. I hope things can be better in future and I think that’s why the coach made this reaction. I think there were problems a year ago, before I was in the national team. It was okay during the Africa Cup of Nations, we didn’t have so many problems. This was the first time for me. I don’t know where the problem is. Fecafoot said later it was not their fault because they gave everything to pay. I think maybe it was the person who had to pay the money made the wrong decision. Maybe they were too late. I just hope it will be better in the future.”
Such a scenario has made Djoum appreciate the relative luxury he enjoys at Riccarton each day. “That’s why I’m very happy at Hearts. Everything is always on time and the facilities are great,” he continued. “Sometimes in Africa they should take examples from the European way to prepare things. We are champions of Africa and, when things like that happen, it’s not normal.”
Nothing could stifle his international pride, however. “All the players were talking and saying: ‘They can do anything, we will still play games and win games because it’s an honour to play for your country.’ Sometimes they don’t respect you well but it will not change our motivation to play. We will go there to play every game – even if they do this kind of thing.”
Djoum is naturally desperate for Broos to remain in situ. The 64-year-old Belgian called the Hearts player into Cameroon’s squad in September last year and he subsequently became a national hero by featuring heavily in the AFCON 2017 triumph. “I hope he stays. This coach gave me my chance to be in the national team. He has a lot of confidence in me so I hope he will stay.”
Djoum is undoubtedly fresh enough for Sunday’s assignment after his international travels. He flew to Tunisia for last Friday’s friendly, which Cameroon won 1-0, and then played only fleetingly in Molenbeek against Guinea on Tuesday. He is a certain starter in the Hearts midfield.
“I played sixty minutes in the first game and only the last fifteen minutes in the second game. The coach had a lot of new boys in the squad and wanted to give them a chance in the second game. It wasn’t our strongest team but it was nice to be back together after what we did two months ago,” said Djoum.
Facing Celtic, who can clinch the Ladbrokes Premiership with victory at Tynecastle, will be rather more intense affair than an international friendly. Hearts haven’t beaten the Glasgow club in six years and are eager to prevent a title party taking place in their stadium.
“It’s true it’s been a long time but in football you never know,” said Djoum. “I look at my experience with the national team. It was fifteen years since we had won any trophy but we became champions of Africa. We did it and nobody expected that before the tournament. That’s why you have to belief. Now, I believe everything is possible. We have to believe at home, with the fans behind us and everybody playing at their best, we can get a good result.
“Games at Tynecastle against Celtic are always close. They beat us 2-1 in the first game of the season by scoring in the last minute. That was a hard game for them. When they come here, they know it’s not easy. We usually play well against them at home so this time we will try to get a better result.”
Hearts could use a result of some sort to maintain hopes of reaching the Europa League qualifying rounds. They are fifth in the table, two points behind fourth-placed St Johnstone – and they face the Perth club next. Celtic’s unbeaten domestic run makes them overwhelming favourites despite being the away team at what is traditionally one of Scotland’s most difficult venues.
“We have nothing to lose in this game. We just have to do everything to stop Celtic becoming champions on our pitch,” insisted Djoum. “No player wants to see this on their own pitch. We will do everything so maybe they win the league one week or two weeks later. Our last result was not good so Sunday is important for our confidence and show the people we have good quality in the team.”