BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
ARNAUD DJOUM admits his Hearts career has exceeded his wildest dreams after emerging from the football wilderness to become a Cameroon legend.
Djoum, 27, was a free agent when Robbie Neilson took him to Tynecastle in September 2015, with the classy playmaker reeling from a miserable spell with Polish side Lech Poznan and a similarly underwhelming stint at Akhisar Belediyespor in Turkey.
Nevertheless, he quickly established himself as a mainstay for the Jambos, scoring 13 goals in 61 appearances and helping the club secure Europa League qualification on their return to the Premiership last season.
Yet, that pales by comparison to his international achievements, with Djoum – uncapped when he arrived in Edinburgh 19 months ago – playing every match from the knockout rounds onward as Cameroon won the Africa Cup of Nations in February.
And Djoum is adamant he has never been happier in his career.
“I could never imagined I would win the Africa Cup of Nations. When I first came to Hearts, all I wanted to do was play, because the previous couple of years had been very hard for me,” said Djoum.
“I was only looking for more playing time and stability.
“It was a bonus to represent for my country and qualify for Europe with Hearts – a first time for me – so only positive things have happened for me here.
“This is the happiest time of my whole career. These last two years have been really amazing and I am proud of what I have done. I am so thankful to this club, the fans and all the people who have supported me. I am very happy here.
“From the moment I first came here, from the first game I played, I have felt support and a connection to the fans. They even have a song for me! This is something special, I have never had this before. They are a big part of my success.”
Djoum’s success with the Indomitable Lions was honoured by Hearts during a glittering player of the year ceremony on Sunday evening, with Djoum walking away with a ‘Special Recognition’ gong following his heroics in Gabon.
“This is something really special for me, my family and my friends,” the former Anderlecht and Roda JC man told Hearts TV. “To win a major continental trophy with your country is really amazing, I never expected that so I am very proud and happy.”