Steven Naismith today spoke candidly on his Hearts future and admitted there is a good chance he will stay at Tynecastle Park permanently.
His loan from Norwich City expires in June, concurrent with his Carrow Road contract, and the Scotland internationalist cited his strong relationship with the Hearts manager Craig Levein as a lure towards joining the Edinburgh club as a free agent.
Naismith is not ruling out a move abroad but said working with Levein at Hearts is ideal for him at the age of 32.
“I think there’s a good chance. I’d be raging if the manager didn’t want me to stay,” he smiled. “The relationship is good. We’re honest. For example, I agreed to come back in the summer but then didn’t sign the deal for a week. When you’re in your 30s there are more to think about. Opportunities aren’t as plentiful – whether that’s a desire to go to England or go abroad.
“You weigh everything up and that’s what I said to the manager. But there’s a good chance I’ll stay and that’s what I said to the manager. I’ve loved every minute of it but I’ll take the time and, like every move I’ve had, you’ll get the feeling if it’s right so I’ll see where I end up.
“I get the impression the manager wants me to stay. He has not come out and said: ‘Oh, we want you to stay and blah, blah, blah.’ But, reading between the lines, he does. He thinks I can do a lot at Hearts and the club would do what they can to get me to stay on. It’s pleasing to hear that, really good. I’ve loved every minute of it. The routine is perfect for me and it works.”
Naismith is free to talk to other clubs in January about a pre-contract. Having won major honours in Scotland, represented his country 49 times and played for Everton and Norwich down south, a foreign adventure is the only thing missing from his CV.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say I was intrigued, but it’s maybe more sitting and thinking: ‘It’s now or never.’ It’s not as if I’m saying I have a burning desire. I’m open to anything at this moment in time. I just need to know I’m making the right choice and not look back in ten years’ time, wishing that I had done something or not.”
Knee surgery interrupted Naismith’s campaign six weeks ago but he hopes to return on Saturday week against Aberdeen. With him on the field, Hearts have an 80 per cent win ratio in the Premiership this season. Without him, it is just 14 per cent.
He and Levein first worked together at international level but their bond has strengthened greatly at Tynecastle.
“He is straight and honest. He doesn’t mess about or hold a grudge,” said Naismith. “As a manager, he has definitely changed from when I first met him with Scotland. As an employee, he is a great boss. He will listen to what you have to say.
“I like the way he works and what he wants as a manager. It’s also a time in my career when I am a bit older and have more experience, so he does ask my opinion on some things. The whole package is nice.
“Ann Budge has been amazing as well. You can see a great future for the club under her ownership and hopefully fan ownership in the future. It’s a club on the up.”
Naismith feels Levein has mellowed somewhat. “He’s not as hands on from when he was an international boss. He delegates to his coaches more. To see an experienced manager do that is great because there is nothing worse than seeing a frustrated young coach.
“He has also mellowed a bit, I think. He only brings his wrath when it’s really needed. Again, he’s probably built that up because the experienced boys in the changing room will do a lot of his donkey work.”
A health scare earlier this season didn’t stop Levein returning to work just over two weeks later – epitomising his commitment to Hearts. “From speaking to him, I think it was a bit of scare. It would be the same for anyone. For him to be back two weeks later... I must admit I don’t think I’ve met anyone who loves a club as much as he does. He’s there for our training in the morning then stays all night. He knows every academy kid’s name and background, which is very rare in a football club. It is an enjoyable environment to be in.”
BLOB Steven Naismith was speaking at the Loaves and Fishes Christmas lunch for homeless people in Glasgow. In his eighth year helping the charity, the player again funded all the food served up.