The difference in Hearts midfielder Arnaud Djoum at Kilmarnock last week was compelling. A player who previously looked lethargic and disinterested suddenly became energetic, commanding and influential. The reason is fairly straightforward.
Djoum and his central midfield partner Connor Randall were key catalysts in Hearts’ 1-0 win in Ayrshire due to their dynamic and aggressive approach. The Cameroonian believes a change in training methods is behind the improved performance.
Jon Daly, Hearts’ interim head coach, has worked the first team rigorously on the grass pitches of Riccarton since Ian Cathro’s dismissal two weeks ago. Djoum revealed how the Irishman is placing more demands on the squad as he tries to follow one win with another against Rangers tomorrow.
“It was an important win last week and I think we played well. Personally, I was feeling well physically,” Djoum told the Evening News. “We want to continue with the same mentality and determination. If we continue to work hard like we have done in training for the last two weeks, we can get a result at Ibrox.
“In the two weeks since Jon took the team, training has been a little bit sharper and harder. I think we missed that before. Ian Cathro had other ideas, that football was more about working with the ball and a lot of passes. That was a different way to play. I think, in Scotland, it’s more about the sharpness and the energy you take into games. That was the difference.
“Maybe the way Ian wanted to play was better for another league because in Scotland you need to be really sharp and physically really strong as well. Now, everybody is feeling sharper than before and ready to play with more energy.
“We are training harder now and everybody responds really well. We are happy to train in that way so we need to continue like that.”
Similarities can even be drawn between Daly’s routines and those of Robbie Neilson, the coach who brought Djoum to Tynecastle in September 2015.
“Sometimes when he is speaking or during training, the terms he uses and the things he does are similar to Robbie. They have the same mentality and the same attitude. Sometimes I remember Robbie when I see Jon during training,” admitted Djoum.
Neilson’s Hearts reign began with a famous win at Ibrox back in August 2014. It was the last time the Edinburgh club managed a victory there. Belief that they can end that three-year run tomorrow has risen following an encouraging display against Kilmarnock.
The Scottish Football Association’s decision to rescind Esmael Goncalves’ red card following an appeal certainly helps the Tynecastle cause. The Portuguese striker is available for the trip to Glasgow and, after three goals in his last three outings, his importance to the cause cannot be overstated.
Hearts should also derive confidence from the efforts of Capital rivals Hibs, who won 3-2 at Ibrox last weekend. “What Hibs did was a good example and we will need to do that as well,” said Djoum.
“It’s always possible to win against Rangers, even through there. We showed last year that we can beat them because we won twice against them at Tynecastle. After winning last week we have more confidence and we have trained really hard.
“We have really good players in the team and I trust them. If everybody plays at the same level as last Saturday, we have a really good chance to win. Also, it could help Jon to carry on because he is doing well. Everybody is happy with what he is doing.”
Tomorrow is expected to be Daly’s last assignment as interim head coach of Hearts. Djoum and his colleagues are preparing for a new arrival to take charge over the coming days, although the identity of the man in question has not yet been decided.
The midfielder also moved to quash rumours surrounding his own long-term future in Edinburgh. Despite reports throughout the summer claiming he wants to leave Hearts, Djoum stressed he has no intention of going anywhere at the moment.
If imperious displays like the one at Kilmarnock continue, that will be music to the ears of Hearts supporters. “I’m here at Hearts, 100 per cent. I still have a two-year contract and there was no offer for me in this transfer window. I’m 100 per cent with Hearts,” stressed Djoum.
“I have always said that, if a club comes from outside and Hearts are happy to let me go – and I’m happy as well – then we can find a solution. If not, I’m here giving 100 per cent and I will continue to play for Hearts.
“At the moment there is nothing coming so I am happy to be here. I’m enjoying my time at this club and I want to continue that way.”
Djoum was aware of stories emanating from the Cameroon camp during tournaments earlier this year. His involvement at the Confederations Cup and African Cup of Nations – which Cameroon won – raised his international profile significantly.
However, he is at pains to stress that he hasn’t been quoted accurately and didn’t at any point say he wanted to leave Tynecastle.
“With the national team, I won the African Cup of Nations and I played in the Confederations Cup this year. I did some interviews and sometimes when you translate you can maybe change the word I say. It becomes like some frustration and misunderstanding. I think that’s where it came from.
“I always say I am happy here. I respect Hearts a lot because they gave me a lot. They gave me the chance to be who I am today.
What he was last week was much different to what he has been in recent months. Djoum now wants more of the same.