BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Arnaud Djoum insists he has benefitted from Robbie Neilson’s tough love following a steep learning curve in Scottish football.
The 26-year-old has been a revelation since arriving in Gorgie in September, initially on a short-term deal, scoring six goals in 26 outings and earning a contract extension until 2017.
Djoum admits the rough and tumble of Scottish football was a steep learning curve, having had the technical side of the game drilled into him during an apprenticeship in Belgium and Holland.
However, he believes the blunt influence of Neilson has crafted him into a superior all-round midfielder – even if the concepts of passing the ball “in to space” and chasing lost causes were bizarre at first.
Djoum smiled: “In the beginning it was difficult to adapt to the way Scottish football is. The manager made me understand how I have to play and it’s a better way of football for me.
“I thought it was crazy when he asked me to knock the ball into space but now I understand. It has made me a more complete player as I have learned a lot during my time here.
“I’ve had to change my game since coming to Scotland and the gaffer has helped me a lot. Scottish football is different to what I was used to when I played in Holland and different countries.
“Robbie is a young coach so he’s closer to the players and he speaks a lot to us. The coaches I have had before were older, they kept their distance more. Instead, Robbie tells us when we are good – and when we are bad.
“It’s important for players to have a gaffer like that. You always know what he’s thinking! He helps us all to become better.
“I’ll give the example of the 3-0 defeat against St Johnstone. After that, with the video analysis after training, he was very critical of us. That’s good. Sometimes you need that.
“You don’t need someone who will just always say ‘it’s good’. You want to do better, so I like the way he works.
Hearts could cut the gap to Aberdeen to six points with a win over Inverness this evening, having dispatched the Dons 2-1 on an electric Friday night at Tynecastle.
And Djoum added said: “Nobody expected us to do so well after coming up from a lower division so it’s been a good season. I think he would be a good choice to be manager of the year.”
Meanwhile, Neilson reckons the atmosphere during Friday night’s triumph over Aberdeen was akin to a European night – and has only served to whet his appetite for continental competition next term.
He added: “To beat a team of Aberdeen’s stature, who have had a great season, is fantastic for us. It gives us confidence and I believe the atmosphere at the whole club was lifted. It shows us what can do.
“It’s possibly the best atmosphere I’ve experienced as head coach. The nighttime games, under the floodlights with a full house – and against a good team – are always special atmospheres.
“It is something you are always desperate to experience and recreate. That’s why getting to Europe will be so good; you get nights like that.
“Thursday nights under the lights are something to look forward to and all the players here are aspiring to be a big part of that. I don’t think there is any place like it in Scottish football.”