It will become clearer in the coming days and weeks whether Saturday’s Scottish Cup final proves to be Arnaud Djoum’s final game for Hearts.
The long-serving Cameroon internationalist was due to hold further talks with manager Craig Levein this week in order to establish where his future lies, with his contract due to expire imminently. The club have already made him an offer in an effort to extend his stay at Tynecastle, but management have been braced for some time for the possibility of the highly-regarded 30-year-old moving on under freedom of contract if he is offered a more lucrative deal elsewhere.
Djoum was well aware when he took to the Hampden pitch on Saturday that the showdown with Celtic may well be his last following four seasons at Tynecastle, and that is why he was particularly emotional after Neil Lennon’s side came from behind to defeat his team 2-1 at the national stadium.
The Yaounde-born midfielder could barely watch as Celtic were presented with the trophy afterwards. “I wanted to do something good for this club,” said Djoum, ruefully. “It was a chance for me to win a trophy, my first trophy with the club. I just really wanted to win that game.”
Asked if the final was his last game for Hearts, Djoum said: “Maybe yes, maybe no. I will speak to the gaffer. We need to sit down, talk a little bit and see what happens. But maybe yes, and that’s why I’m frustrated. I really wanted to win that trophy to give to the fans. With all the support they gave us, I wanted to win it for them.”
Djoum remains open-minded about where his future lies. When asked if he has other offers on the table, he said: “No, no. I just need to speak to the gaffer and together the gaffer and I will make a decision. We will try to find a solution. We will see. I will speak to him this week. When things have cooled down after Saturday’s game, all the stress and stuff, I will speak to the gaffer and the club.”
Djoum became a fans’ favourite after making an instant impact in Robbie Neilson’s team when he arrived from Lech Poznan in September 2015. His first outing for the club, incidentally, came as a late substitute in a 0-0 draw away to Celtic and his subsequent performances helped him earn regular status at Tynecastle and international recognition with Cameroon, whom he helped win the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon a little more than two years ago.
Although his contribution in recent seasons has polarised opinion among supporters, with some feeling he had the ability to be more consistently assertive against Premiership opponents, Djoum has remained one of the first names on the team sheet under Neilson, Ian Cathro and Levein whenever fit, making more than 100 appearances for the club. The vast majority of those came as a starter, while he also chipped in with 16 goals.
Djoum’s time at Tynecastle has been the most enjoyable of his career, so, if he does depart for a fresh challenge, he will do so with a heavy heart. By the same token, the former Roda JC player will also go down as one of the club’s best signings since the post-administration rebuild began in 2014.
“Hearts have been good for me, that’s why I really wanted to win the final, for the fans and the club,” he explained. “Everything has been great when I have been here. Since the first day, even when I was injured, I had support from everyone. I just say ‘thank you’ to the club and to the fans. I don’t know what will happen next. I will speak to the gaffer and we will find a solution.”
Frustration will linger for some time among the Hearts players after they relinquished a golden opportunity to stun Celtic and win the Scottish Cup on Saturday.
The Tynecastle side looked on course for glory when, after matching the champions for the first half, they got themselves in front through a Ryan Edwards goal early in the second half. Celtic’s fightback, capped by a double from Odsonne Edouard, came as a hammer blow to Djoum and his colleagues, who were starting to sense glory.
“It was very frustrating to lose because we really wanted to win the trophy,” said the midfielder. “It was important to us. When you see the game, we played well. We were organised, we didn’t give them a lot of chances and we scored first. When we scored the goal, I had a good feeling but we conceded two really stupid goals. It was a penalty and the second one was not like they played through us. It was a stupid goal so we have some regrets. We just have to go on holiday and try to think about something else.”
It remains to be seen at this point whether that “something else” for Djoum will involve a fresh start at a new club.