HEARTS new loan signing Steven Naismith admits that the only thing that was in his mind when deciding to leave Norwich was the prospect of first team football.
Having dropped out of the English club’s plans, the 31 year-old has signed for the Edinburgh club until the end of the season and he cannot, he admits, wait to be back playing regular football. And the prospect of starting his Hearts career with a derby match against Hibs in the Scottish Cup fourth round tomorrow, there could not be a better start. “I’m very pleased to be here,” he said of his arrival at Tynecastle.
“The biggest thing is just being desperate to get back training with the promise of a game at the end of the week – and they don’t come much bigger than the derby so I’m looking forward to it. Since I’ve come back from injury it’s been frustrating. It’s probably the first time in my career that I’ve experienced a situation where I’m not even considered by the manager.
“So it has been challenging but I have used the time well in the gym to get a good routine so that I was ready for whenever a move happened so I’m in a good place.”
And his somewhat advancing years – in sporting terms at least – was at the forefront of his mind when making the decision to return north, whilst the prospect of taking a cut in money did not even enter his head.
“I think the bigger factor as you get older is there’s more to think about with making moves.,” he said. “There’s family life and my daughter starting school and things like that so it’s not as straightforward as when you’re a young guy making it in the game when you’d just go wherever. So I had to think about all the options and pick which one I thought was best for me.
“It’s a major factor that money doesn’t matter so much now. I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve done well and got some good moves so it is now more about enjoying it. The fact that one day you will wake up and not be able to play football any more becomes foremost in your thoughts so it’s about getting back playing and enjoying it.”
Hosting Hibs tomorrow is, of course, a huge occasion for Hearts but having played in a number of massive derby matches, including Old Firm games and Merseyside derbies, Naismith is not fazed by the prospect and instead, is relishing the opportunity to make his mark on the team and the fans immediately.
“Every team I’ve played with has had a proper derby – I’ve managed to play in them all for every club, so it’ll be great to play in this one,” he said. “I enjoy the intensity and desire in these games. Growing up as a Rangers fan, it was obviously special to score in an Old Firm game. And my first goal for Everton was in the Merseyside derby which probably gained me a bit of time to turn it round with the fans because I hadn’t had the best of starts up until then. So I know exactly what a derby goal would mean (tomorrow), especially if we win. But we just want to get into the next round, so if we win 1-0 with big Christophe (Berra) scoring, I’ll be happy enough with that.”
Hearts manager Craig Levein has admitted that a major plus point of signing Naismith is the experience he brings to the dressing room. Naismith recalls that when he was a young player, he was like a sponge the way he soaked up input and advice from the older players and he hopes he can now return that favour to the up-and-coming players in the Hearts squad.
“I’ve watched a few of the young players because I still watch a lot of Scottish football and it’s exciting to see them coming through,” he said. “When I was younger, I would ask questions all the time because I was hungry to know things.
“I know how much the older guys in the Kilmarnock team did for me, so if I can have that type of impact on these boys, that will give me a lot of satisfaction. I remember clearly at that age what my thought process was – I remember Stevie Murray at Killie signing a new first-team contract as a big prospect and I used to think ‘imagine getting to that point, imagine being a main player for Kilmarnock.
“Then I would look at Boydy and think ‘imagine being the main man at Kilmarnock’ and that drives you and drives you. So I understand how these guys think and how they will want to get to the top. If I can help them at all with that then I will do all I can. I hope they all have questions, I enjoy that – I warm to people who aren’t shy to ask questions because I was the type to do that.”
45-time capped Naismith played under Hearts boss Levein during his time as Scotland manager and while it wasn’t a particularly successful spell for the national team, Naismith saw enough positives to make him think that reuniting would be a good move for his career.
“I enjoyed working under Craig with Scotland,” he said. “There were obviously mistakes in terms of the whole squad and not qualifying for a tournament is ultimately a failure. But a lot of what he did in terms of preparation and things like that, I really liked and enjoyed. I learned a lot from him at the time and I was comfortable coming in to work under him again.”
For a number of reasons, Levein is not convinced that this loan deal will be extended past the end of the season and while Naismith has not decided on any long-term plans either, one thing he is relatively sure of is that his career will, sooner or later, finish in Scotland. “I’ve said many times that I see myself back in Scotland to finish my career,” he said.
“Whether that begins now – I have another year at Norwich – I don’t know. All I have been thinking about is getting to play. There will be a lot of conversations during the summer but I’m happy with things at the moment.”
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