Steven Naismith discusses long-term future at Hearts, managerial ambitions and his Edinburgh derby message

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This Saturday at Easter Road will see the realisation of a career ambition for Hearts interim boss Steven Naismith – even if it’s come quite a bit earlier than he or anyone expected.

Managing in the Lowland League as the steward of the Hearts B team, Naismith has suddenly been thrust into the top job after the club decided it needed a change of direction in the bid to recapture third place in the cinch Premiership.

After Robbie Neilson was sacked on Sunday afternoon it took just over 24 hours for Naismith to be announced as his replacement until the end of the season.

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Chief executive Andrew McKinlay has said the opportunity will be there for Naismith to audition for the top job during this seven-game run to close out the campaign, though the club are starting the process of looking for a long-term successor with McKinlay saying the board wish to recruit a ‘proven winner’.

Hearts interim boss Steven Naismith speaks to the media ahead of his first game against Hibs at Easter Road. Picture: SNSHearts interim boss Steven Naismith speaks to the media ahead of his first game against Hibs at Easter Road. Picture: SNS
Hearts interim boss Steven Naismith speaks to the media ahead of his first game against Hibs at Easter Road. Picture: SNS

Naismith still doesn't know yet if he’s ready to jump from coaching youngsters to being in charge of a squad of top-level players, but he insists that regardless of whether he doesn’t fancy it or Hearts don’t fancy him, he can still return to a job he thoroughly enjoyed doing and continue his apprenticeship.

“In all honesty it has not been pitched as anything, it was, ‘can you take the team?’,” he said of his conversation with the board. “That was the starting point, for me that come from my relationship with the club, I’ve got a brilliant, really honest relationship. From now until the end of season I’ll take the team and I’ll do the best I can do.

“I’ve said before, I want to be a manager. Has this come quicker than expected? Yes. Am I ready for it and well equipped? Yes. Do I want to be a manager come the end of the season? I don’t know, we’ll see how this goes. If I’m enjoying it all and I think, ‘I’ve got a right buzz here, I love this’. I might want to go and say, ‘by the way, I’m ready to be a manager, I would like to be considered’.

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“So if I get to the end of the season and I want to go back [to the B team], I don't care what anybody else thinks. I'll do what I want. I'm fortunate enough that I can do what I want and it's my choice. It's not ‘I need to do this’ for whatever reason, I do it because I love it and I get good value from it. That's why I do it.

“I was in an amazing situation, where I was in my life in terms of being B team manager, Scotland coach, brilliant for where I was at, learning all the time with no real, real pressure. So I’ve loved it and that might be an option and that might be where I go back to, but this is a great opportunity to try something and if works and everybody is happy then it might continue. If it doesn’t, then I go to an amazing situation I was in before. That’s how I’ve seen it and that’s how the club see it.”

Naismith is used to dealing with pressure as a player, having competed in cup finals, title deciders and represented his country on 51 occasions, but stepping into the hotseat as a manager for the first time has reinvigorated that feeling of equal-part nerves and excitement.

“Whirlwind, it’s been a whirlwind,” he said. “In football it’s hard to describe things at points and this is one of those moments. Similar when I moved club, you have that whole uncertainty, whole change, that is the closest thing that compares but it’s some buzz.

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“I’ve loved it, it’s probably the closest of that adrenaline and intensity that moving and scoring that winner and it breeds confidence. That’s the biggest thing, the first three days have given me confidence and but it’s enjoyable, really enjoyable.”

Asked in which way his confidence has grown, he said: “It’s just the unknown, how the players are going to respond, how the staff are going to respond? How am I going to deal with situations that I’ve never been in before? But I could not have had a better three days if I’m being honest. They’ve been long, there has not been a lot of sleep; not just me, staff, everybody. That’s the way we work, we’ll work until everything is done.”

It's fair to say the 36-year-old has quite the baptism of fire this weekend. Hearts travel to Hibs for the fourth Edinburgh derby of the season. The Jam Tarts hold a nine-game unbeaten run over their rivals and may be under additional pressure to find victory if Aberdeen are able to defeat Ross County on Friday night and open up a five-point gap. So while every Edinburgh derby is huge, this one takes on extra significance.

"Hibs are a good team. Their manager is experienced. He’s got things he’s likes doing, patterns or principles. A way he wants to do things,” said Naismith.

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“They’re a team that’s low on confidence. It’s been pretty similar to Hearts over the last month, say, in terms of results and performances. And there is that bit of negative feeling. But it’s a derby. And in every derby I’ve been involved in, the team not in form has won games.”

“Give us a plan,” Naismith responded when asked what the team need of him. “I don’t think I’ve ever had to be motivated to get up for a derby so I don’t think that’s a massive thing.”

“I’ll tell you now, come Saturday we’ll not have not prepped. If we win lose or draw, that is what it is, but I’ll not be looking back going, ‘maybe we should have done that, maybe we should have done that’, we’ll have covered it all.”

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