Why Craig Levein doesn’t want to know if Hearts’ stats without Steven Naismith are a coincidence

Steven Naismith has proved to be a big asset at Hearts. Picture: SNS GroupSteven Naismith has proved to be a big asset at Hearts. Picture: SNS Group
Steven Naismith has proved to be a big asset at Hearts. Picture: SNS Group
Steven Naismith has contributed more to Hearts than manager Craig Levein imagined.

The club won 63 per cent of last season’s games with Naismith playing, yet just 15 per cent without him. After 18 months on loan from Norwich City, a permanent deal for the Scotland internationalist was the proverbial no-brainer.

“Absolutely,” said Levein. “In some ways the loan deal’s been brilliant for us and for him. It’s given him his enthusiasm back and it’s allowed me to see him working in this environment and see what he brings. He’s brought more to the party than I thought he would.

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“He likes it here, he’s respected and everybody looks up to him. He has his own routine that works for him and he wants to play at the highest level possible for as long as possible.”

He is also adored by the Gorgie public having finished top goalscorer with 14 goals last season despite missing large chunks of the campaign through injury.

“How could he not be? He’s done a lot in a short space of time to convince everybody that he’s going to be a huge asset for us. Our record with him and without him his stark. Is it a coincidence? I don’t want to find out.”

Naismith’s hunger shows little sign of waning, something that attracts Levein.

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“Yeah, and he also missed quite a chunk of his earlier career with knee problems and he’s had a couple of cruciates. Having been there myself, you always want to get that back,” explained Levein. You feel like you’ve lost something and you want to tag it on to the tail end of your career. As long as you’re enjoying yourself while you’re playing football, it’s a brilliant life.”

Naismith intends to finish his career at Tynecastle Park, where his influence on others has been telling. His remit is to continue that trend by demanding standards from others.

“He comes in every day with a smile on his face. That turns into a grimace when he starts bawling at people in training,” smiled Levein. “The bounce game on Monday he reffed brilliantly. It was one of the best refereeing performances of his career.”

On a more serious note, Naismith’s leadership is something Hearts should cherish. “He’s a culture setter and an example to other players. Christophe Berra is a solid character, so’s Steven MacLean. They’re proper people and proper football people and I put Aaron Hughes and Don Cowie in that bracket as well. For me, Naisy’s desire to keep going and show resilience is something that can rub off on a lot of our younger players.

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“I managed him at Scotland as well and I found him and Darren Fletcher in particular to be really focused, professional and well-mannered people. Don’t get me wrong, there were loads of others as well. I obviously remembered working with him. When the loan arose, sometimes you wonder what you’re bringing in but with him I had no qualms about getting him in quickly.”