Arnaud Djoum does not believe Hearts’ squad requires another major overhaul in the summer transfer window.
The Tynecastle side have toiled in recent months since nine players were recruited in January to plug gaps left by the departures of five players and injuries to John Souttar and Callum Paterson. Many of the recent signings have already been written off by disenchanted supporters after a demoralising run in which Hearts have won just two of their last ten matches. Although head coach Ian Cathro, who only arrived at the club himself just over four months ago, has tried to downplay talk of another big rebuild in the close-season, the consensus remains that there will be plenty comings and goings over the summer as the Edinburgh club look to reassert themselves at the top end of the Premiership next season.
However, Djoum feels that the recent struggles are merely a natural by-product of the level of transition at the club over the past few months. The Cameroon internationalist is adamant that the much-maligned batch of January signings are of a high calibre and believes they will be perfectly equipped to flourish by the start of next season, once they have had time to adapt to the unique demands of Scottish football.
“Things like this happen at clubs,” Djoum told the Evening News. “We have changed coach and have lots of new players so sometimes you need time to get things settled. I think this is a normal situation in football. You can’t change everything and everything goes well straight away. Against Dundee [on Saturday] I feel like we showed we have good quality players. You see Alex [Tziolis] – he is a quality midfielder and I enjoy playing with him. The other guys as well, Esmael Goncalves – they are all quality players. They just need time.
“I’ve said before – Scottish football is not easy. You need time to settle in and get used to it. When everybody gets used to it, we will get better, win more games and have more stability. By the time next season starts, the new guys will know Scottish football and will be used to it. It is not easy when you only have a short time to get to know your team-mates. But with a good pre-season and about 20 games together this season, we will know each other well and I think everything will be fine. I’m sure we will add maybe two or three new players but I don’t think we need ten new players again in the summer. The other guys who are here just now have a lot of quality.
“They are also good guys in the dressing-room. For me personally, I get on very well with Isma and Malaury Martin because we speak French a lot together. They are all good guys who just want to enjoy their football but everyone just needs time to find their feet. I know we don’t have a lot of time because everybody wants us to get results straight away but I believe the team will be better in the future. I think next season will be better because we will have pre-season and more time to work together. I’m very positive – I know this team can do great things in the future.”
Hearts’ objectives for the remaining weeks of this season are to rebuild some broken bridges with their supporters and try to reclaim fourth place from St Johnstone and give themselves a chance of qualifying for the Europa League for the second year running. Saturday’s win over Dundee, which stopped a three-game losing streak, has kept them in contention.
“The Dundee game has to be a stepping stone for us,” said Djoum. “Europe is not over. We are five points behind St Johnstone but we have six games left and we still have to play them. We know we have to win most of the remaining games to get fourth but it is possible.
“We just have to continue to believe. We all enjoy the way the gaffer wants us to play because when we have the ball, there is a lot of movement. All of the players like that. We have learned from this difficult time and now we need to fight to be fourth in the league.”
Djoum, who missed the defeats by Celtic and St Johnstone with an ankle injury, returned to the side on Saturday and played an influential role in his side seizing the initiative before going off after an hour. “It was important to get a win after our previous three games,” he said. “When you see your team losing games, you just want to help them. I had a sore ankle and even on Saturday I wasn’t 100 per cent. I pushed to play to help the team so I am very happy that we won the game. I felt we controlled the game. We were well positioned and we had some chances. I had a great chance to make it 2-0 with the header, but the most important thing was to win the game.”
Anxiety from the crowd was evident in the second half on Saturday, with supporters fretting over the possibility of witnessing another setback. Djoum is hopeful that the unease from the sidelines will dissipate if the team embark on a run of positive results. Everyone at Tynecastle is now fully focussed on making it back-to-back wins by defeating Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on Friday.
“It was important to beat Dundee to calm everybody down a bit,” said Djoum. “We now need to beat Kilmarnock as well and go on a little series of wins. That is the best way to get the fans back onside. It is important to do that so that they will be a bit more calm and more supportive of the team. Since I have been here, they have been great fans. Now is a difficult moment for them but I believe in the future it will be better.”
While Djoum has full faith in his new team-mates to make a long-term impact at Tynecastle, it was one of his longer-serving colleagues who stood out against Dundee on Saturday. Prince Buaben, ordinarily a midfielder, was pitched in at centre-back and went on to be the man of the match. Djoum hopes to see the Ghanaian continue in this position. “Prince played really well at centre-back,” he said “I know the quality of him – he is a really good player. I know he played centre-back a long time ago and I thought he did really well against Dundee, he deserved to be man of the match. He’s very good on the ball and for a midfielder like me, to have a centre-back like this who gives you balls between the lines is really important. He can do it well and it’s really important for the team. I hope he will continue to play in this position.”