Big interview: Hearts' Steven Naismith on Premiership's rise and his plans for future
Seeing Scottish football's stock rise to its highest point in a decade fills Steven Naismith with enormous pride. The striker, on loan at Hearts from Norwich City, is helping revive his native league and talks passionately about the strongest top flight in ten years.
Naismith has scored 12 times for the Edinburgh club this season and is excited seeing names like Jermain Defoe, Steven Davis, Ross McCormack and Ryan Gauld heading to Scotland. The perception that Scottish football is on the up is an understatement, according to the 32-year-old.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a perception. It’s fact, 100 per cent,” he said, analysing the first half of the campaign at Hearts’ luxurious winter training base near Murcia. “These type of players want to come to Scotland. Davo [Davis] is different because he’s been here before and understands it. There are guys like Defoe, Ross McCormack, Ryan Gauld.
“It’s not that Scottish football is doing good and every game is amazing. It’s not the case. It is more entertaining. In the bigger leagues, people see one game and think it’s amazing. Liverpool v Man City is a great spectacle, but for every one of them there is a dud – and Scottish football has got them.
“However, there is a genuine title race. No one team is sitting down the bottom thinking they’re gone. As much as that’s good, much more can be done. The national team are struggling to get a sponsor and things like that. We need folk who will work as hard as they can to maximise the product.
“It’s never been a better product in the last ten years. That’s the next part and hopefully everybody can go forward.”
Whether the prosperity across his homeland persuades Naismith to continue his career there remains to be seen. His Hearts loan ends this summer along with his Norwich contract, so he is currently free to talk to any interested club.
Officials at Tynecastle Park have made as strong a pitch as possible in an effort to keep the Scotland internationalist, who has become something of a talisman. He is still toying with the idea of playing abroad and is no closer to making a final decision.
“I’ve spoken to the gaffer so that bit is further forward. He gave me a rough guide on what he wants. Not much has changed on my side,” admitted Naismith. “I’m not holding out for this or that. I just don’t want to make a mistake. I’ve said it before. That’s a decision me and my wife will come to.
“I’ve loved every minute of it here but I don’t want to look back with regret in ten years. I’m conscious of my kids going to school and I want them to be settled. A couple of years in a five-year-old and a two-year-old’s lives is nothing compared to our life and the experience they could get if I was to do something different. I want to make sure I make the right decision.”
Naismith revealed some of the lengths Hearts have gone to and admitted that even small gestures can make a difference to a footballer. “Don’t get me wrong. At Hearts, I’ve got it good. There are a few things the manager gives me that some of the younger boys don’t get. Like travelling. It can be a lot of travelling so sometimes he will tell me to do my recovery in the house. I’ve got a gym at home, so wee perks like that he has given me.”
The reason those perks are possible is because the player remains one of the most prolific and influential forwards in the Ladbrokes Premiership. “Inevitably it’s about Saturday. It’s not about me showing I can hit every stat during the week. That’s like any of the older boys here, as long as we’re producing the goods on the park.
“The manager said he will help me going forward if coaching is something I wanted to do. Everybody can see the manager’s outlook on that. He has young coaches, develops them and wants them involved. He has offered me all those opportunities as well.
“Hearts are going beyond to offer me the best package. The time will come when I’ll need to make a decision. I’d like to have it made by the end of the season. It normally comes to me so I’m not going to rush into it.”