Robert Snodgrass explains how Glasgow street upbringing is helping him succeed at Hearts
Trust is clearly integral to Robert Snodgrass’ recent standout displays for Hearts. Thriving in a deep-lying midfield role, the 35-year-old sometimes wouldn’t look amiss sporting a pair of slippers and puffing a cigar.
Team-mates know they can rely on his experienced head and talented feet to use the ball wisely, hence he now orchestrates much of the team’s play. He made his name as a forward at Livingston and thrived in attacking midfield roles with top English clubs including West Ham United and Leeds. Now he is very much the traditional playmaker, happy to sit and dictate from the base of Hearts’ midfield.
“I'll play anywhere. At Luton they played me as a No.6, at West Brom they played me as a No.6. I don't know where it came from,” he explained. “I was always a No.10 or a winger, it just came out of the blue. West Brom was different, I never really got much of the ball. Luton was slightly different, it was half in between. [Nathan Jones] played me as a No.10 in the play-offs [second leg v Huddersfield Town] and he said: ‘That was the best game you've played.’ Because I'm a No.10, that's where I've always played.
“I've never relied on pace. I've never had any pace. The lads laugh every day: ‘How have you played [top level]? You cannae run.’ Your mind moves quicker. You do have to adapt. Those lads will get it all the way through their career as well. There will be certain times, certain circumstances, different clubs, you do need to adapt. I think that's the biggest word in football. You do need to adapt. I've probably had to do that a lot throughout my career.”
Snodgrass possesses a football brain which helps him remain several steps ahead of both colleagues and opponents on the field. He honed his game in England’s top two divisions but attributes bravery with the ball to a grounded upbringing in Glasgow’s Gallowgate district. Years spent practising on uneven or cobbled streets saw him develop immaculate ball control. That set the tone for an impressive career in Scotland, England and at international level. Hearts are now the beneficiaries of a player determined to take responsibility at every opportunity during matches.
“First and foremost, the lads need to trust you to deal with it in there,” he said. “You can keep it for us, you can make things happen, you can find the next phase, you can get through the lines. I've always tried to have that coming from the streets. Give me the ball, I'll try and make something happen or give it into the danger zones for the attacking lads to go and do it. Hopefully they can trust me now. It just takes time.
“People speak about bravery and courage, I want to give them an option as much as I can to try and help. That's what football is made up of, options, angles, bravery, composure, taking the ball in tight areas. That's what the top players do at every single level and that's how they get out of tight spaces – how they create overloads, four v twos, four v threes. Try and get into that rhythm to trust yourselves in those pockets, in those zones. Once we get in there, go and express yourself.”
The creative instinct hasn't been dulled simply because Snodgrass is often further away from goal these days. He is still partial to the occasional scarper into opposition territory, evinced by his first Hearts goal in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at St Mirren. He delivered a cross deep into the home penalty area which evaded players on both sides before bouncing into the far corner of the net. Whether in space or being pressurised by the other team, he will never hide.
“It doesn't change for me whether I'm here or there, I've still got a role, a duty,” stated Snodgrass. “First and foremost I need them to know they can trust me. If anything goes wrong, I'll take responsibility. They've played it to me, it's fine. It doesn't matter if there is a man on me, I still need to take it, still need to try to make it happen. It's 11 v 11, you are going to have men on you, that's the whole point. If somebody moves on me or two move on me, find the next space. That's all the little bits I feel as if we're getting better at. We are starting to control games and starting to cause teams problems in the final third, but it starts from the back line.”
With a CV the envy of many a footballer, Snodgrass has probably forgotten more about the game than some others know. He would have been a justifiable candidate for Hearts captain following season-ending injuries to goalkeeper Craig Gordon and defender Craig Halkett. However, club management handed that honour to top goalscorer Lawrence Shankland. He responded with three goals in three games since accepting the armband, and boasts 18 from 29 appearances altogether this season.
“He's one of the top scorers in the league,” Snodgrass pointed out. “Shanky's a terrific lad, he can deal with that no problem at all. He's a winner, a leader. The lads respect him. You need to look to your No.9 for passion, desire, somebody who will put their body on the line for the team and that's exactly what Lawrence does. He's done a great job.”