Clevid Dikamona remembers the moment he knew he had to sign for Heart of Midlothian. A new-look team had started the 2018/19 season in emphatic fashion. In the League Cup they had progressed to the quarter-final, including two 5-0 wins, while in the Premiership they had won three from three. Celtic had been downed 1-0 at Tynecastle Park between wins at Hamilton and Kilmarnock.

Hearts required a centre-back after Christophe Berra had suffered a serious injury in the Celtic game. Dikamona came to meet the board and management team when St Mirren were swatted aside 4-1 on September 1, current head coach Steven Naismith scoring a first-half hat-trick, including a penalty after four minutes.

“I remember when I arrived at the stadium the referee gave a penalty for Hearts, Naisy scored and all the fans made the stadium move,” he told Hearts Standard. “I want to play here, I want to play here, I want to play here. It was at that minute that I decided to sign for Hearts.”

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The passion, the colour, the noise of the 17,000 fans that day left a mark on Dikamona. It gave him the feeling he needed when playing football. Conversely, it was part of the reason he decided to hang up his boots in his early 30s, pivoting to become an agent and setting up his own agency back home in France.

“You know me, I was close to the fans at Hearts,” he said. “I played football for that, for the people who watch the game. I wouldn’t say I am a showman but I love football for that. That’s why during Covid, I wouldn’t say I wasn’t happy but I’m not playing football for kicking the ball, run. I’m playing football to feel something, to have emotion, to see the reaction of people around the pitch. That’s why I am playing.

“The Covid period made me feel it is maybe time to give more stability to my family. It was not easy and that’s why it took me a year, a year and a half. When I broke my contract with Hearts during covid to go home and thought to myself it was time to do something else.

“During Covid my family moved back to France earlier and I was alone in the UK for six months, playing football but in bad conditions. You don’t have fans in the stadium and that’s not the way I see football and not the way I see myself playing football. Football isn’t just about being on the pitch making tackles, making passes and winning games. It is not just that. It’s more than that. It’s not just about making money. It’s more than that. It’s feelings, it’s making people happy. And I was not able to do that during Covid. I received offers after Kilmarnock but refused because I wanted to do something else, go back to France to prepare to do something else.”

Dikamona’s playing career was varied, fulfilling and full of experiences which continues to aid him as he develops his HEWEGO agency. While he became a full international for Congo, the country of birth for his parents, he was a youth international for France, career milestones which fill him with pride knowing that he “may be the best player in the country” in his position at the time and a reward for the sacrifices of putting football in front of school and friends. It is a journey which has taken him to various levels of France to the United Kingdom, as well as spells in Greece and Israel.

“I saw different cultures," he said. "I am an open guy, happy to meet people, different people. I can introduce myself everywhere, but also for my kids, it was amazing for them. I have three girls, for my oldest and second oldest now they speak French and English. One was even starting to speak Greek when we were there. It is amazing for kids to have such different cultures in their mind. From my side they have the African culture as well. My wife is from France.”

It was one of those moments in football where an open door suddenly appears following the closing of another which led him to Edinburgh. His family had failed to settle in Israel and the opportunity at Hearts presented itself. He would reach out to Malaruay Martin and Arnaud Djoum but not Christos Karipidis. The Greek favourite was a team-mate at Platanias. Dikamona was taken aback when told of Karpidis’ Gorgie past.

“Really!?,” he asked. “I didn’t know that! I spoke to him maybe six months ago and he didn’t mention that!

“When I signed in Israel after one month my wife said to me ‘listen Clevid, I always follow you everywhere but I didn’t feel good here’. When you are a player and your family is not happy where they are it is difficult to be positive and play well. I started to feel this in training and friendly games, I was not happy to be there. I decided to go to the club and say ‘I am not feeling good. It is not about you or the club’. They understood.

“I cancelled my contract on the Wednesday night and that night I received a call from my agent at the time. At this time I think Hearts were top of the league, I checked who was in the squad, I saw two or three French players. Everyone in football knows everyone. I found two friends who were friends with Malaruay Martin and Arnuad Djoum.”

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While Berra was injured, Levein had James Dunne and John Souttar as options, and now Dikamona. His adaptation was made easier, arriving at the “right moment” with the team performing well and was made to feel just as important as his new defensive colleagues by the manager. It didn’t take long for him to endear himself to the Hearts support, earning the ‘Jambo Soldier’ moniker.

“When I was on the pitch I gave everything,” he said when asked why he feels he became a fan favourite. “It’s not about me being a good player because it is not the reality. I am honest with myself, I was not the best player, I know. But I was giving everything on the pitch. All the time. Even if I was sick, injured or if I was not in a good moment.

“In your career you always have a bad moment. Some days you wake up and go ‘wow, today is not going to be my day’ but even in this type of moment the only thing that was driving me was to give everything. I think the manager knew that, my [defensive] partner knew that and the fans as well. ‘He’s on the pitch, he’s going to give everything’. That’s maybe the way they held me."

Hearts Standard:

That was certainly the case on December 29 when the team travelled across the city to face Hibs. Yet, there was somewhat of a defensive crisis. Berra had returned but Souttar and Dunne were unavailable. In normal circumstances Dikamona would have been in the stands also. But this was Hibs. This was the Edinburgh derby.

“I got injured when we played against Livingston,” he said. “My quad had an 8cm tear. Normally I would be out for four, five weeks, maybe more. I didn’t train. I was close to coming back to the pitch for training. The manager came to me and said ‘look Clevid, we have a problem, we don’t have any defenders available right now. You have one more game for the year and after you are on the break. Can you play?’ He asked me to play in a game against Hibs. The only way to reply was yes! I said ‘Yes! Yes, yes, yes’.

“I tried to train on the Thursday but it was still painful. On the Friday the manager told me to rest. When you come out on the pitch and see the stadium, the fans, I was not able to say to the manager that I was not able to play. I just said to myself ‘sorry but fuck off, I’m going to play’. We will see if my muscle says I can play the game! I played, gave everything. It was not easy. I was playing with Michael Smith on my left and he took care of my back and on my right Marcus Godinho. He was aware I was injured. I was protected by all my team-mates. It was not only me on the pitch. Everyone knew I was injured. Even the Hibs players. And we did well!”

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That would be a high point for Dikamona, as well as the team. Hearts would regress over the next 15 months, a period which ended in demotion to the Championship. Levein would be replaced by Daniel Stendel.

“If you look at the season before, in the league we were already on a run that we were not winning so many games,” he said “The only games we were winning were cup games. As players we felt there was something wrong. We were not able to win games in the league. When you don’t give a win to the fans they start to be on you and then on the manager. The easy way to make something change is always change the manager. It is easier to change one person.

“It was a bit difficult at the beginning with Daniel. Craig made me feel like I was John or James at this time. Daniel at the beginning, it was clear I was not in his plans. I remember before a game against Aberdeen I had been to his office, we were not winning games at this time. I said ‘give me the chance to play. If I am doing worse than the players on the pitch at the moment. It’s fine, I will find a way to leave. But if you give me the opportunity and I am doing well then you will see I am going to play and it will better’. I think we got our first point under him against Aberdeen. It was not the end I was expecting but personally he started to trust me and believe in me and I could be a good solution for the team.”

Despite the ending to his time at Tynecastle, with demotion, covid and ending his contract he still views that period with Hearts as “on top” regarding his career.

“It was not the club where I’ve been for the longest time but it is probably where I felt the most emotions. The feeling at Tynecastle was just amazing, even against teams at the bottom you can have 20,000 people in the stadium. The games against Hibs were amazing. My time at Hearts was the best feeling.”