STEVEN Naismith went back to his roots yesterday and dipped into his own pocket for the community which nurtured him, yet the Scotland forward is convinced that the return of Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd will prove even more profitable for Rangers.
Naismith was in familiar territory in the Ayrshire town of Stewarton as he announced his sponsorship of the boys club which launched his career. Dyslexia Scotland’s logo will appear on the shirts of Stewarton Annick FC, to promote the charity which is close to Naismith’s heart.
The Everton player suffered from dyslexia at school but went on to play for his country as well as Kilmarnock and Rangers.
The 27-year-old was a colleague of Miller and Boyd at Ibrox, as well as with Scotland, and insists they will be a huge inspiration to Rangers in what he sees as a fiercely contested SPFL Championship.
Boyd left Ibrox for Middlesbrough in June 2010 and Miller departed for Bursaspor seven months later. “The one season they had together, they had incredible records with both of them scoring,” recalls Naismith. “When Kris left, Kenny went on to score a lot more. They’re two quality players.”
Naismith left Glasgow as a free agent when Rangers went into liquidation in 2012 but is not surprised to see his old colleagues back.
“Their situations have changed,” he said. “They didn’t have clubs. Boydy’s contract had ended at Kilmarnock. It must be something Rangers have thought about because of how well they’ve done in the past.
“They’re a bit older but have more experience and see the game a bit differently. It was not a massive gamble to sign them. They’ll go a long way towards helping Rangers. I’d imagine the manager might want to sign a few others.
“Rangers have also made a good signing in Darren McGregor. I played against him a few times and he only got better from when he went from the lower leagues up.
“He had a couple of bad injuries but came through that. However, it will be tough. Hearts and Hibs, who are really Premiership teams, are in there, too.
“Kris is a quality striker who has now added all round work to his game. In his younger days he maybe didn’t do it as much because he was concentrating on scoring goals.
“Now he sees the rewards of doing it for the team.” Ally McCoist has recruited Miller as a free agent from Vancouver Whitecaps for his third spell, some 14 years after Rangers paid Hibs £2 million for the striker.
“Every year that Kenny played at Rangers, he improved his goal ratio and his finishing got better,” reflects Naismith. “He’s up there with the players I learned most from. He does not get the credit he deserves for his all-round play.
“It was an education watching him day-to-day and playing with him. He was so unselfish, especially in the lone striker role for Scotland or Rangers in Europe.
“I’d put Kenny in the same bracket as the top-drawer strikers I’ve played with in the English Premiership. It probably doesn’t come across in games. A lot of people will say ‘Kenny Miller?’ but he’d be one of your first picks every time.
“I’ve learned from others since I’ve gone to Everton. Sylvain Distin is the ultimate professional and Leighton Baines is another who does extra. When I was a young player, I learned so much from Kenny. He’s got a couple of years’ more experience after going round the world to play and any young boy who wants to will learn so much from him.
“His knowledge of the game is great, knowing what to do with defenders, to drag them out of position. That’s the kind of thing supporters don’t see. I’ve played with Romelu Lukaku at Everton but he’s probably more raw ability than experience. In five or ten years’ time, he might be doing things he’s not doing now. The same goes for Ross Barkley.”
Baines, Barkley and Lukaku will not be part of the Everton squad who gather tomorrow to begin pre-season training.
Their involvement in the World Cup, along with Belgium’s Kevin Miralles and US goalkeeper Tim Howard, will see them exchange a training camp in Austria for a deserved holiday before rejoining Roberto Martinez’s team in Thailand.
Everton just missed out on Champions League qualification, after finishing fifth last season, but Naismith is convinced this team can match the achievement of David Moyes’ 2005 side.
“It’s definitely in our capability to do it,” he said. “It happened once before and we got Villarreal in the qualifiers. That shows you how tough it is. The league is stronger now. Last season the points for the teams that did get in was higher than before. In any other season, the points we got would have been enough to qualify.”
Liverpool secured the Champions League prize by finishing second but Naismith is unsure if the expected departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona will damage his Merseyside rivals.
“If Suarez was to leave, then without a doubt it would be a blow to Liverpool,” said the Scot. “His goals were incredible last season. On our day, we are capable of beating anybody. We definitely believe we can get Champions League football.”