BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
Arnaud Djoum has been European football’s nearly man so far in his career – but is convinced he will finally taste the continental competition he craves with Hearts next season.
The Belgium under-20 cap saw Dutch side Roda JC miss out twice in the Eredivisie’s end-of-season European play-offs during his time at the club.
The 26-year-old then left Lech Poznan this summer before the Polish outfit’s dozen outings in the Champions League and Europa League against the likes of Basel, Fiorentina and Belenenses.
The former Brussels and Anderlecht midfielder admits he did not have Europe on his mind when he moved to Tynecastle back in September.
But, with Hearts now 11 points clear in third spot in the Premiership, the Cameroon-born player believes the prospect of taking on the cream of the continent is now a very real one.
He said: “If we can qualify for the Europa League it would be the first time that I will have played in European competition.
“When I was in Holland we didn’t qualify for Europe. I got really close one season because we got to the European play-off.
“After I left Poznan, they played against Basel in Switzerland and they played against Fiorentina as well.
“I still have some friends there and they told me it was really tough, that it was another level.
“I watched them and I was thinking to myself that I also wanted to play in these kinds of games. For every footballer, I think it’s good and important that you can play in European games.
“I have been very close a few times, so hopefully I can finally play in Europe with Hearts. We have the quality to do it.
“I didn’t really think about qualifying for Europe at Hearts to start with, because I didn’t expect we would be playing to qualify for Europe next season.
“Now, I see that’s really possible.
“It’s exciting when you play against players you have seen on TV, the big players. You can meet them and try to compete with them and see how far you are from the top level.”
Djoum, an Arsenal supporter, admits his long-term dream is to play in English football, a league and style of play he regards as the cream of the crop.
That Hearts played Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in successive seasons recently, earning a shock 1-1 draw at Anfield in a narrow 2-1 aggregate defeat, came as a welcome surprise to the Belgian.
And, having come so close with previous clubs, the powerful play-maker is welcoming the chance to be in the thick of it with Hearts next season.
Speaking ahead of this afternoon’s clash with Partick Thistle, he added: “Hearts drew at Anfield? That’s a good sign for us – if we go to Europe we have the chance to make a good result.
“Going to Anfield would be amazing. It would be a dream to go to this kind of stadium, with lots of tradition. Hopefully we can maybe do that next season.
“For a footballer, it’s important to play games and show yourself. I feel part of it at Hearts. If we get to Europe, it would be good to know I did something to help get us there.
“It’s important that you feel important to the team. I have that feeling at Hearts but I didn’t have it in Poznan.”