AS mesmerising as Gareth Bale may prove to be when Wales face Scotland on Friday night, the Tottenham Hotspur phenomenon won’t be the player on the Hampden pitch Steven Naismith will consider a potential role model. That individual will be wearing home colours.
“Wales have some real talented players and, of course, you don’t need to look further than Gareth Bale, but we need to cause them problems with our players. Shaun Maloney [pictured] has had a terrific season at Wigan and he’s someone in our squad who can change a game himself. Our forward-going players can cause Wales just as many problems as they can cause us.
“Shaun’s had that experience of being in England before at Villa but it’s maybe taken him a bit more time than people expected [to settle]. He’s showing his true colours now and how good a player he is. He showed it at Celtic and people probably had their doubts whether he could do it at a higher level and he’s come to England and done that. He has played a massive part in how Wigan have done this season, and even last season, and is definitely a player whose progress I look at and see it is something I would like.”
Using the Maloney parallel, Naismith is perhaps right to consider that he has made acceptable progress in his first season at Everton. Maloney has taken three full seasons to become a first pick with an English Premier League side. Following his decision not to transfer to the Rangers newco last summer on the back of nine months out with a cruciate ligament injury, Naismith has made 14 starts and 15 substitute appearance for the Goodison club, the former more than he expected when set against the backdrop to his move.
The 20-times capped forward has only started once for Everton since the Estonia friendly six weeks ago, though, making two other brief appearances from the bench. And that is surely the sort of limited game-time for players in the English top flight that new Scotland manager Gordon Strachan last week referred to as a “real problem”.
“Personally I feel I’m better, sharper than I was at the early part of the season but I can understand why the manager is saying that,” Naismith says. “There is nothing that can replicate playing week in, week out, but that is what happens when you’ve got a bunch of guys in the best league in the world. The competition’s high and there are going to be times when players are in and out of the team.”