Hearts' Steven Naismith considers retiring this summer as he accepts missing out on the Euros with Scotland
For the last couple of years the Hearts captain has found himself contemplating whether to continue his playing career, which is now in its 18th year. Each summer the prospect becomes more real.
He has still to make a final decision and will take a period of reflection after the final Championship game of the season tonight at Raith Rovers. He is realistic enough to acknowledge that a place in Scotland’s European Championship squad is not on the horizon, so there is plenty time to ponder the future.
“Quite literally every summer I’ll sit and have a couple of weeks off, and then I think to myself: ‘What do I want to do?’” said Naismith.
“Something that has always been at the back of my mind, especially after having some bad injuries, when I finish playing I still want to have a decent quality of life in terms of what I can do – fitness-wise, playing football, whatever.
“I've always thought that I’m not going to play until my body gives up, I don’t think that would be the right thing to do. I would say probably for the last two years over the summer I’ve sat and thought: ‘Do I want to continue playing?’ In all honesty that’s the only decision I’ll have.
“If I want to continue playing I’ll take my break, I’ll get as fit as I can and come back for pre-season. If I don’t want to then I’ll then have the relevant conversations that need to be had.
Making the right decision
“I’ll know what the decision is. In previous years that’s been the case. You get a couple of weeks off, let your body rest. Deep down, every decision I have made in my career, I have felt was right.
“So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll wait a few weeks and see how I feel. I wouldn’t say that’s anything outwith the norm, or that this season I’m feeling it more than I have in previous years, to be honest.”
Naismith’s contract at Tynecastle Park runs until summer 2023 and he recently began coaching the club’s under-18 squad. He admits to feeling the effects on his body in the aftermath of matches. “Recovering, definitely! I’ve noticed that, over the past couple of years, your recovery takes slightly longer.
“You’re doing your sprints and you’re not running away from boys, they’re running away from you,” he smiled. “It’s small details. You need to spend more time in the morning warming up. These are things that have come on since I was 32 or so.
“In terms of the enjoyment and will to win, that’s always been there. As much as that’s a big driver, it’s one of the things that will lead me to make the decision. There’s nothing that can replicate being a footballer.
“You definitely have more aches and pains. I found, even when I was 20 and had a knee operation, through the winter and the colder months I noticed it. Again, it takes you slightly longer to warm up.
“So it’s more that kind of stuff. When I have spoken to surgeons in the past one of the questions I have always asked is what is the impact going to be further down the line?
“Every time I have it’s always been that I am in a good, healthy position. So I suppose as long as that is still the case that will be an indicator of what I do as well.”
Ideally, he would like a swansong at international level before retirement. Had the European Championship taken place last summer as scheduled, he would probably have been part of Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad.
Hall of Fame
The landscape is somewhat altered 12 months on. “If it was last summer I would have given myself a good chance of potentially being there. With the extra year, playing in the Championship, having a shorter season, finishing earlier, and then not playing in the last few weeks, gives me no chance,” admitted Naismith.
He can satisfy himself with a place in the Scottish FA’s hall of fame for players with more than 50 Scotland caps. “The Hall of Fame was the short-term biggest thing for me,” added the forward.
“At one stage it didn’t look like I would make it. So to get back involved was great, and when I did working with the manager was fantastic, I loved it and I think he appreciated me around the place, and what I brought to the group.
“When I look back I am proud of what I did with Scotland, the amount of caps I got, the teams I played in. To be able to look back and say I played a very small part at the start to get us to the Euros is a nice feeling. Not being there, I’ll sit and enjoy every game as a fan.”
Naismith won his 50th cap as Scotland captain against Cyprus in November 2019. He scored on his last appearance three days later in a 3-1 win against Kazakhstan. “Around that trip was the whole talk of the 50th cap, and it was a good ten-day trip for me personally,” he recalled.
“Captaining in the team, I would never have thought I would ever have the chance to do it. So to do it twice, we won both games, I scored, it’s the proudest you can be as a player.
“Growing up you always watch Scotland and I never really thought I would play for them until it happened and then it snowballed from there. So I am immensely proud of my Scotland career if I am honest.”