Steven Naismith has not given up hope of making it into the Scotland roll of honour and believes Hearts will give him the perfect platform to force his way back into the national team.
The player has accumulated 45 caps, leaving him five shy of emulating the 31 players who have already been awarded the commemorative gold medal and a place in the Scottish Football Museum. But with a new national boss set to be appointed he said it was vital to get back to playing week in week out and force his way into the thoughts of the latest incumbent.
“Hopefully it can extend my Scotland career,” he said. “I want to get back playing first of all and then it’s about trying to catch the eye of the new manager, whoever that may be.
“I didn’t only come back to Hearts for that purpose. Just getting back playing was the biggest factor in me deciding that I needed to move in January. But I do want to give myself the best possible chance to get back involved with Scotland.
“You’re doing yourself a disservice if you say ‘nah, I’ll sit it out – something better will come, I’m not fussed for moving’. You’re on the back foot straight away if you do that. I’ve always been somebody that wants the chance to show what I’m about really.”
After a spell in which he described himself as a glorified dressing-room cheerleader at Norwich City, Naismith is keen to get back to the on-field action. Having signed with Hearts, on loan until the end of the season, he will do that tomorrow when he makes his debut in the Edinburgh derby, with the target of helping his new employers into the next round of the Scottish Cup and, ultimately a Hampden final come May.
But he is also dreaming of turning out at the national stadium in the dark blue of Scotland when the country embarks on the next major qualifying campaign.
“In all honesty, when I started out I never thought I’d get anywhere near 50 [caps] but over the years, you get closer and then you get into the 40s and you think ‘I’ve got a chance of this if I keep doing well.’ I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about that,” he added.”
Naismith’s return north of the Border after six years in England, with Everton and then Norwich, has captured the attention of many, who recognise it is a coup. It seems everyone and their auntie has been wheeled out to question why Rangers did not make a decisive move for the player who won three league titles with them, as well as the Scottish Cup and League Cup but Hearts have simply been revelling in the big catch.
“It’s been a lengthy process,“ said Hearts manager Craig Levein, pictured above, who is well aware of the attributes the 31-year-old forward brings to his squad, having worked closely with him as Scotland boss.
“I’m not a fisherman but I suppose an analogy would be I have been playing this fish for an hour and it feels good to finally land it. He’s a big signing for us. I know it’s a loan deal but it’s a big signing.
“He has got a bit of gravitas about him with the things he’s done in his career, what he has won, the clubs he has played at, the transfer fees he has gone for. It all points to him being a very talented player.
“He’s still fairly young in footballing terms, and I think a number of things came together at the same time, his desire to get back up the road and he was frustrated at not playing.
“I asked to speak to him and he said all the right things and Norwich have been good, they’ve allowed him to come up and play and for us to pay a small portion of his salary.”
A small portion, maybe, but with another 18 months on his contract at Carrow Road, the expectation is that he will be too expensive to hold on to come the summer
“Us getting him was down to his circumstances, family circumstances and not playing,” said Levein. “Norwich were very good, they’ve understood his need to play – and that allowed us to put a deal together which was manageable for us, although still quite expensive. It’s quite a costly exercise and to do it on a permanent basis would be extremely difficult.”
Jamie Walker’s departure freed up cash to finance the deal and exacerbated the need to complete it and while it has limited transfer options for the remainder of the window, Levein says that if one or two others follow Rafal Grzelak out the door – the Polish full-back was released by the club yesterday – he may have some scope to bring in further reinforcements.
In the meantime, Levein is hoping Naismith is the man to help Hearts halt the run of nine derby games without a win, believing he has the big-game temperament and quality needed to swing things in his side’s favour.
“I’m a huge fan of his,” said the Tynecastle manager. “I like the way he plays and I particularly like his attitude. He likes winning. He hates losing. That’s a good thing.”