Why the Hearts support should be encouraged by the appointment of Steven Naismith as captain as fans react to the decision

Daniel Stendel chose Steven Naismith to replace Christophe Berra as Hearts captain

Saturday, 18th January 2020, 7:45 am
Updated Sunday, 19th January 2020, 3:17 pm

'Who is going to captain Hearts the other 80 per cent of the time?'

*Badum tish*

It was the predictable, albeit understandable, response from fans of other teams, as well as Hearts supporters themselves, to the news Steven Naismith has been announced as the new Heart of Midlothian captain.

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Steven Naismith has been given the captain's armband by Daniel Stendel. Picture: SNS

Manager Daniel Stendel revealed on Thursday that four players were in the running for the position: Naismith, Michael Smith, Craig Halkett and John Souttar.

There shouldn't have been a great deal of surprise that Naismith was chosen with Souttar continuing the role he had under former captain Christophe Berra as vice-captain.

In his one and only game under Stendel, the forward was chosen as the captain with Berra not in the team.

Although, as the centre-back and veteran midfielder Glenn Whelan were told to either 'find a new club' or 'you are leaving', there may have been some pondering whether Naismith was next in the cull of ageing players.

The forward's injury history has raised concerns. Picture: SNS

Realistically that was never going to be the case.

The German manager had questioned the leadership of Whelan and made suggestions about Berra's qualities fulfilling such a role. But whenever he talked about Naismith - always referring to him as 'Naisy' - it was largely positive, bordering on excitement at getting him back fit and on the pitch.

And that is where any such doubt regarding the captaincy lies, with the 33-year-old's troublesome injury record.

Since arriving at Hearts midway through the 2017/2018 season he has made 52 appearances for the club, out of a possible 94 games. He has missed nearly 45 percent of matches, the majority of which have been due to a collection of injuries or niggles.

A lot of fans wanted Michael Smith as the new captain. Picture: SNS

The popular vote

A poll run by the Evening News showed that possible concern. Of nearly 900 voters, 59 per cent opted for Michael Smith as their preferred captain.

The Northern Irishman is perhaps the most liked player amongst the support, because he is so reliable and consistent. He plays virtually every week. He shows commitment, effort and desire, and never lets the club down, on or off the field. It is easy to see why the popular figure got such backing.

Scrutiny will fall on both Naismith and Stendel if the injury problems persist. But the decision shouldn't be seen as a slight against Smith, and it is unlikely to irk him. As he has shown time and again, he is not that type. He will turn up on Saturday, on Wednesday, on Sunday and give his utmost for the jersey.

Naismith has been a talismanic figure for Hearts. Picture: SNS

In fact, the decision should encourage fans that they are set to see a lot more of Naismith.

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No leeway

There have been suggestions that Stendel has shaken things up behind the scenes. Deals made and leeway afforded under the previous management team are no longer in place. The new boss wants his squad on the training field regularly, training with high intensity and 'power', as a recent clip of the team being put through their paces displayed.

It is difficult to foster a strong team spirit as well as working on phases of play and tactical plans if key players are not there.

Stendel clearly trusts that Naismith is going to be on the training field, vocally leading from the front, something which has been witnessed this week.

After all, the Hearts support know the standards in which the striker expects. Having played at the top level for so long, winning trophies with Rangers, making over 100 appearances in the Premier League, scoring a hat-trick against Chelsea, reaching 51 Scotland caps, he has had to handle the pressure of performing week in, week out and the constant demands placed on him.

It is something which has visibly frustrated the player. So used to being required to reach such a standard, he prods, probes and pushes his Tynecastle team-mates to levels of perfection that some of them may not be capable of reaching. But he tries to eke everything he can out of them.

Leader

It has led to friction. There was an argument with Uche Ikpeazu at Ibrox earlier in the season and there was a familiar verbal volley towards Berra from time-to-time for his decision making on the ball or position he was taking up.

Even with the captain armband sitting on Berra's bicep, most seen Naismith as the true leader. Barking, berating, encouraging, remonstrating. He resembled the club's attacking threat, talisman, manager, captain, cheerleader, Sgt Major and referee to boot.

Stendel will rely on Naismith to be an extension of himself on the field.

The striker has shown the transformative effect he has on the team and there is no debate who is the leader of the playing squad. Now it is up to Naismith and Stendel to lead Hearts out of relegation trouble.

HEARTS FANS REACT:

@HeartsThough: "I completely understand why Stendels picked Naismith considering what he’s probably seen in the last month in training but jeezo that should be Michael Smith's or at least Halkett's."

@maroonspecs: "Personal preference would be Smith, but from a longer term perspective I could see the argument for Halkett. Question marks over fitness would rule the other two out for me."

@grandpa_flump: "Masterstroke by Stendel. Harness Naismith's leadership abilities and get him to commit 100% to the cause. I have a feeling the niggly injuries will stop now he's captain under a manager who demands total effort from everyone. No more part time manager and part time players!"

@PantsShaton: "Great choice - he’s effectively been the on-pitch captain since he signed."

@gavinwallace30: "The Natural Choice. When fit he’d be my captain even before Berra was axed. Hopefully can stay fit long enough to get us playing again. Congrats Naisy."

@Thejamtarts51: "If he stays fit, no doubt about It's a great decision. Naismth is a born leader! Don't know how true it is but apparently Stendel's had him training double sessions. Let's move on, together as one!! Time to announce a new signing now...."

@Bckgrieve: "Would have been a excellent decision 5 year ago. Not that I'm unhappy about the decision, he's great for us and a real leader. Recent seasons have proved troublesome, he's spent more time on the sideline with injury than ovbs candidates. Michael Smith for me he's the most consistent."

@rodmclean: "Good luck to him. However, I liked it when there was another captain because it was like having two on the pitch. With Naisey constantly nipping at everybody's head for 90 mins. Gets my vote though."

@ROKx111: "I'm happy with this but you'd be as well announcing Michael Smith as Vice as he'll be wearing the band more than Naisy."

@nr310584: "A captain is a guy who puts club before anything. Hopefully this will be the case going forward..."

@cunny1874: "No question he’s good enough and the most experienced player we have and never stops talking and helping his team mates my only concern is will he play enough games no point the captain sitting in the stand so hopefully he’s over his injuries."

@briwdmay: "He's a born leader and by god he's due a long run of games."

@AlanMeikle: "Just when you think some positivity is returning everyone jumps to the Naismith's always injured chat. Any chance we can start looking forward?"

@JamboGilly: "A fit Steven Naismith is 100% the natural leader on the pitch and someone who will give any player a kick up their arse if they’re not doing their jobs properly. Let’s hope we get a good run of games from him for the rest of the season."

@Ian1978Jambo: "A fit Steven Naismith as captain is 100% the correct call from Stendel. Stendel has put his faith in him and its now time for Naisy to stay fit and repay that faith."