Steven Naismith is poised to return to Hearts on a season-long from Norwich City and will have more influence, writes Joel Sked.
• READ MORE: Steven Naismith set for Hearts return
After ten signings this summer, it will be the 11th which will excite Hearts fans the most ahead of the new season, with the news that Steven Naismith is set to return to the club.
That should not be taken as a slight on the club’s recruitment, with most new arrivals unknown to supporters having arrived via Australia, Austria, Czech Republic, Cambridge and Luton. Instead, with Naismith, fans know exactly what they are getting.
The 31-year-old has more than 100 English Premier League appearances to go along with the more than 100 Scottish top-flight games. There have been titles and 45 caps for Scotland as well as over 100 career goals.
Many of the club’s new signings could be regarded as educated punts. Scouting has taken place, stats consulted but many simply don’t have experience of Scottish football.
Naismith doesn’t fall into such category. Fans can hang their hat on the diminutive forward. He’s proven his capabilities with Kilmarnock and Rangers before moving to Everton, while there were flickers at Tynecastle in the second half of last season during his loan spell from Norwich City.
After the departure of Jamie Walker to Wigan Athletic in January, Naismith was a marquee arrival, a statement signing. It was hoped, thought even, that he would propel Hearts to challenge for the European spots and help inspire a Scottish Cup run in tandem with former Rangers team-mate Kyle Lafferty.
What transpired was something slightly different. The forward didn’t look like a player who had once scored a hat-trick for Everton in a win over Chelsea, or one who had been transferred for £8.5 million two years previous. There were mitigating factors. Naismith was joining a team which had structural issues, while he had lacked competitive football having missed a large part of the first of the season through injury.
He nearly made an instant impact on his debut in the Scottish Cup fourth round Edinburgh derby, taking the ball around Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano but unable to steer his shot on target.
The player’s attitude, endeavour and no-nonsense bustling style endeared him fans. Naismith would be a nuisance to defenders, making them as uncomfortable as possible. Yet, as the campaign progressed he found himself working further away from goal.
• READ MORE: Hearts prepare a new-look midfield for Arbroath
This was a consequence of the issues which had plagued the squad from the start of the season. With injuries to key players and others not compatible, Naismith took on more responsibility in midfield, whether that was a directive from manager Craig Levein or simply a willingness to get involved and help influence proceedings. The partnership with Lafferty which was hyped failed to transpire.
There were bright sparks, namely an excellent goalscoring performance in a 2-1 win over Hibs after the split, but on the whole the signing didn’t quite work as expected.
This time it should be different. He will arrive with around a month left until the start of the league campaign, allowing him to get up to pace and in fighting shape prior to the Premiership opener at Hamilton Academical.
He will also rejoin a team which has greater depth and more options, especially in midfield.
“The competition in the middle of the park will be much better,” Levein said ahead of the club’s first pre-season friendly at Arbroath on Tuesday. “I go back to last year and the competition was sorely lacking at times in our midfield.”
Ryan Edwards, Olly Lee and Oliver Bozanic have joined Harry Cochrane, Don Cowie and the returning Arnaud Djoum. There should be no need for Naismith to have to drop quite so deep, those six capable of providing a solid platform.
In a squad which is still lacking in creativity, getting Naismith on the ball in the final third will be crucial to Hearts’ attacking game plan. His hard-running, his fly-like persistence and his intelligence will make him the team’s attacking fulcrum.
He won’t be a 20-goal a season forward. His role will be more rounded. Capable of playing as part of a striking duo in a 4-4-2; a supporting striker in a 4-2-3-1; or part of an attacking trident in a 3-4-3, he will be tasked with creating as much as he will be with scoring. He is the type of selfless individual who will get the best out of his team-mates, especially the club’s young talent who have the perfect role model to look up to and learn from.
The club’s recruitment may not have been inspiring until this point, but in Naismith Hearts will get the ideal inspirational figure.
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