Steven Naismith outlines who is in charge of what roles in Hearts management team
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The club’s technical director was the caretaker boss for seven games towards the end of last season after replacing Robbie Neilson. When the management team, also including coach Gordon Forrest, was retained on a permanent basis following the conclusion of the campaign, it was assumed the former Scottish international would remain in charge.
However, with Naismith lacking the necessary qualifications to manage in European football, McAvoy was named as head coach instead. Fans presumed this was nothing more than a box-ticking exercise, but the ex-Preston boss recently insisted he’d be the one calling the shots with regards to team selection.
Naismith has now explained it will be a group effort, but while he’ll have the final say on recruitment, it will be McAvoy who ultimately has final decision when it comes to matchdays.
“From day one we have worked as a team,” Naismith told the Daily Record. “I’m not naive enough to think I know everything. Frankie has loads of experience, so has Gordon. And we’re fortunate it has clicked really well and everyone has their own bit they are strong at. That’s the way we worked before. I personally enjoy environments like that.
“The biggest thing we have done is everyone has an opinion, and if you have an option to make us better, voice it. We’ll then decide if it’s a good idea or not. It’s been like that since day one.
"The final say will be Frankie. The bottom line is it will be. To date it has never come up where someone’s opinion has been so strong. We’re very much the same.
“When it comes down to the squad and the team that’s Frankie. In terms of recruitment and things like that it’ll be me.”
The missing qualification for Naismith is the Pro License, which Uefa stipulates coaches must have to manage in European competition or the club risk a significant five-figure fine, which has been dished out to other sides on the continent in recent seasons.
But even though it’s caused a bit of confusion and even furore around the Hearts support, Naismith insists he has no regrets over choosing not to get his final coaching badges. The 36-year-old is in the Scottish Football Hall of Fame thanks to the 51 caps he won for his country. The last of those came just over 18 months before he announced his retirement and he believes he wouldn’t have been able to compete at such a level at an advanced age had he instead been focused on his post-playing career.
“From playing at the highest level and being an international player I have found the badges challenging,” he said. “Not in terms of doing them – I really enjoy them and think there’s value in doing them. But the process of doing them is definitely not suited to international footballers.
“So you either try and do them earlier and compromise your level of playing – I was an international up until the last year of my contract, which would make this opportunity easily viable for me. If not you are then having to play catch-up. Now I understand these are all here to give you as much exposure and learning before you go into a job.
“But football in general is not perfect. I think the process could be changed to offer routes for everyone rather than ‘this is it’.
“But listen, it’s the situation we’re in and we have dealt with it. I definitely don’t have regrets because I wouldn’t have reached 50 caps if I had done that.
“I did my B Licence when I was playing at Everton. On the coaching course you’d be told that a session should be designed in a certain or specific way. But David Moyes or Roberto Martinez would do it a different way.
“Now, there’s no right or wrong, but I found myself losing slight focus on what I was actually doing. And that’s why I decided to do my B Licence and then wait until I retired before doing my other badges.”
Regardless of whether it’s McAvoy or Naismith as the figurehead at the front of the Hearts management team, the technical director has promised the team is going to continue playing in the same fashion they did to end last season.
After taking over as interim boss, Naismith immediately ripped up his predecessor’s patient, possession-based approach for a style in which Hearts attacked more aggressively with players encouraged to take more risks on the football. Results didn’t follow quite as much as everyone at the club would have hoped, with the team winning just two of their last seven games and narrowly missing out on third, but performances and the style of play did enough to convince fans and the club’s board that sticking with the caretaker management team was the best route forward.
“That’s the only way I want to coach. It’s the only way I feel you get long term success – if you have a clear identity,” said Naismith.
“We want to win games and be on the front foot. Of course there’s times you need to be compact like at Ibrox when we get a one goal lead and they’ve gone forward and we need to be good at defending and be really good on the ball.
“We’ve shown that in good spells. Now it’s about progressing that and believing in it. You need the right players, coaches and thought processes.”