As Hearts’ longest-serving player, Arnaud Djoum is desperate to savour his first trophy wearing maroon.
With his fourth - and potentially final - season with Hearts nearing a conclusion, the 29-year-old midfielder knows the ultimate glory is now just 90 minutes away after Saturday’s emphatic victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle set up a showdown with treble-treble-chasing Celtic in next month’s William Hill Scottish Cup final.
Since arriving in Edinburgh as an unheralded signing from Lech Poznan in September 2015, Djoum has established himself as a mainstay within a Hearts team which, aside from finishing third in his first season at the club, has generally been unable to contend at the very sharp end in the league and cup competitions. Victory over Neil Lennon’s players at Hampden on May 25 would give the Cameroon midfielder the type of moment he has craved throughout his time at a club with which he has developed a strong affinity.
“I’ve been here for a long time and there have been a lot of ups and downs in that time so it would mean a lot to me to win this cup,” Djoum told the Evening News. “I’ve never been to a final with Hearts so I was really motivated before the Inverness game because I knew this could be something special.
“I’ve never won a cup at club level before. I won the league in Poland but I didn’t play a lot so it didn’t have the same feeling. I didn’t really feel part of it. With Hearts, I have played a lot so for me it’s really special. I have been here a long time and the club is really special to me so it would be a really emotional moment to win the trophy with Hearts. I will do everything to try and repay this club by winning the trophy.”
Although silverware has been in short supply at club level for Djoum, he has experienced the thrill of winning a major competition at international level. Just over two years ago, the former Roda JC midfielder helped Cameroon defeat Egypt in the Africa Cup of Nations final in Gabon. Djoum will never forget the jubilant scenes that followed that triumph and wants to experience similar in Gorgie during the final week of May. “I know the importance of winning trophies,” he said. “I’ve won one already with Cameroon and I want to win more trophies. Winning the Africa Cup of Nations motivates me a lot. I know what it takes to win a trophy and I know what it can be like afterwards so I’m so motivated to win this trophy.”
Having fallen out of contention for a top-four spot in the Premiership following a poor run of league form in recent months, there was significant pressure on Hearts to ensure they got past Championship outfit Inverness Caledonian Thistle in Saturday’s semi-final. Second-half goals from Uche Ikpeazu, John Souttar and Sean Clare ultimately took the Edinburgh side into the final with plenty to spare. “It was the biggest game of the season for the club and the fans so we were delighted to get through,” said Djoum. “I could feel the pressure in the build-up. Hearts are a big club in Scotland so the pressure is always quite high, but especially after losing to Hibs the week before. We did well to deal with the pressure though.”
Hearts had almost 18,000 expectant supporters in Glasgow and Djoum was buoyed by the sight of a maroon and white wall in front of him as he emerged from the Hampden tunnel at kick-off time. “It was really nice to come out of the tunnel and see all the Hearts fans,” he said. “When you know so many people have come to support you, it gives you an extra boost. They helped us a lot on Saturday. The victory was for them.”
Djoum is hoping the feelgood factor generated by reaching a first cup final since they lost the 2013 League Cup showpiece to St Mirren can help Hearts thrive in their final five matches of a league campaign where the best they can realistically hope for appears to be beating city rivals Hibs to fifth place. “Getting to the final is a big thing for the confidence of the team as well as the supporters,” said Djoum. “A cup final is something really big to look forward to. It should give us a lot of confidence for the remaining league games. We don’t have so much pressure on us for these games now so hopefully we can enjoy them and try and win as many as possible. We have nothing to lose in these last five games and we know we have a cup final at the end, so let’s just enjoy these games. Hopefully we can end the season really well and give ourselves a good chance to go and win the cup.”