'Too many years of hard luck and nearly stories.' Steven Naismith lays out his plans for change at Hearts
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Whether he is granted a permanent stay as Hearts manager or not, Steven Naismith is clear on what must change at Tynecastle Park. Seven games in interim charge allowed him sufficient insight to develop a plan for the future. Now he must hope for the opportunity to execute it.
Senior club officials are due to make a final decision on Naismith’s future and the 36-year-old is eager to assume the task in Gorgie. He has altered the playing style by putting greater emphasis on attack, although Hearts are by no means the finished article. Naismith will tell you himself there is still a monumental assignment awaiting whoever takes charge this summer.
One thing he would intend to overhaul is mindset within Riccarton. Finishing fourth this season is one place lower than desired, and three cup final appearances in recent years saw Hearts finish runners-up to Celtic in 2019 and 2020, then to Rangers in 2022. Naismith was a Tynecastle player for the first two, missing the 2019 final through injury but taking part the following year. He was coaching the Hearts youth team last year.
He therefore knows intrinsically the mentality that prevails within the club on a daily basis. It is fair to say he isn’t exactly content with it as it stands. Naismith won league titles and cups as a Rangers players before experiencing England’s Premier League with Everton. He also won 51 Scotland caps. Success became a habit he now wants to transfer into management in Edinburgh.
He spoke exclusively to the Evening News to detail some of his ideas for change. “Over the last two years, I think Hearts have shown they have a really good squad. So that is there already,” he explained. “This season overall probably hasn’t been as good as it should have been, but the ability is there. I’ve done a lot of work on mindset, mentality, what we accept and what we don’t accept. That’s evident every day on the training pitch, in the gym, in recovery, working off the ball when you are out of possession, all these things.
“The mindset needs to change. There have been too many years of hard luck and nearly stories. We got to four semi-finals and two cup finals in my time [as a Hearts player] and came away with nothing. That’s the part I feel needs to change. The squad is good, we need to keep developing, but overall there is lots of real potential here. We just need to maximise what we can do.”
Scenes of players and coaches jostling in a mass confrontation at the end of Saturday’s Edinburgh derby between Hearts and Hibs were not what Scottish football needs. That said, the unity and fighting spirit shown by the Tynecastle camp is something Naismith derives encouragement from. Harnessing it in the correct manner would form a central part of his approach next season if given the manager’s job.
"We went a man down against Hibs and we were fighting to see it out,” he said. “Then we are standing up to anything that we don’t believe is right and is disrespectful [at full-time]. The scenes at the end show it.
“Everybody is united at the club. The fans stay with us till the end. All the players and staff are right behind each other. What will be, will be. People will get punished, the clubs will get punished, but overall there are some positives from it – to have that fight as one group.”
It is also evident in a footballing context. Coming from behind at St Mirren and Rangers earned valuable points before Hearts held Hibs at 1-1 for an hour with 10 men following Alex Cochrane’s red card. “That [fighting spirit] is massive,” said Naismith. “I can point to the St Mirren game, when we were 2-0 down and dealt with it. We didn’t feel sorry for ourselves or starting blaming Peter Haring’s red card and go: ‘Oh, we’re hard done-by.’ At Ibrox, we went to the end in a game that I know we needed to win, but you can’t go toe-to-toe with Rangers or the game gets away with you. We had to manage the game well.
“There have been other examples. The Celtic game was similar to Saturday against Hibs. They had two moments of good quality, we maybe switch off, but it’s a learning process. We have learned from the Celtic game to the Hibs one in terms of how to manage a game with 10 men. That’s really pleasing.”
Perhaps one of the best examples of the tenacity and industry Naismith refers to is Yutaro Oda. The goal against Hibs was his first in maroon, but he is more than just a silky Japanese forward. “Oda will be a good player here. He will be a success with Hearts,” said Naismith. “Saturday was perfect timing because that first goal for the club won’t hanging over him next season now. He was desperate for it.
“He has really good attributes, he just needs time to come and enjoy his football and keep playing. He will make mistakes. Last week at Rangers I thought he was ineffective but he is still young. His natural instincts and his intelligence as a player are really good.
“Whoever is here [as manager] needs to manage him well, keep him learning and he will be a real asset for the club going forward. He does have that [aggressive] side to him and it shows out of possession as well. He works really hard off the ball in terms of when to press and when not to. He’s got some fight.”