Gary Naysmith had no desire to leave Hearts 20 years ago when he was sold to Everton in a £1.7million deal. Nor did he plan another exit last month when his contract as the club’s loans manager was not renewed.
Yet there is no rancour. In fact, he would never close the door on returning to Tynecastle Park again.
Ideally, he hopes to land another management job after previous spells in charge of East Fife and Queen of the South. He recognises the market is fiercely competitive but, at 41, time is on his side. He is also open to other coaching roles, either in Scotland, England or abroad.
Walking out of Hearts for a second time left Naysmith disappointed, although he acknowledges that the loans manager job was almost redundant. He turned down an opportunity to coach emerging teenagers through the club’s performance school at Balerno High, stating it wasn’t for him.
His future remains unclear as it stands. He is in no desperate rush to take any old offer. A 46-cap Scotland internationalist who played in the English Premier League and who holds UEFA Pro, A and B licences won’t be without suitors.
Naysmith explained his plans and his admiration for how the Hearts owner Ann Budge handled his latest departure. He was recruited by Craig Levein last August and gained valuable experience looking after young players out on loan last season.
History repeating itself
“It was disappointing to go because it’s the second time I’ve had to leave Hearts through no choice of mine. Even when I went down to Everton, I didn’t want to leave. Hearts made the decision to sell me,” said Naysmith.
“I was happy at the club and I was learning. My reports went to Craig [Levein] but I was working mainly with the reserve and youth coaches John Rankin and Liam Fox. They coached the youngsters every day so any feedback on a loan player I would report to them.
“The manager of Arbroath, for example, maybe thinks Craig Wighton needs to work on this or that, so I fed stuff like that back. I got information for contracts from the club so it opened up a different side of football for me.
“I quite enjoyed the administrative side. I did a computer course when I went through to the Falkirk Stadium and got an introduction to Microsoft, using Word and stuff like that.
“More and more of my work was being done on computers, keeping stats on boys out on loan and filing reports.
“I knew a lot of players who had been out on loan were probably going to be released at the end of the season, and they also knew that.
“With people like Rory Currie and Daniel Baur not around, there weren’t that many youngsters ready to go out on loan. So I thought there maybe wouldn’t be a loans manager next season.”
No hard feelings
“I knew that job might go so you are just hoping the club might reposition you, but I fully understand what’s happened. Hearts still don’t know what division they will be in and there is a lot of uncertainty because of Covid.
“Mrs Budge took the time to phone me and explain the situation so I have no problem at all. She handled my departure perfectly, exactly as I would want it handled.
“I always found her an intelligent and articulate person who always did her best by her staff. I couldn’t say a bad word about her. When I left, I thanked her for bringing me back to Hearts and told her I hope it’s not long before they are back challenging near the top of the Premiership.
“There was one job which came up at the club. I did it for a week or two, up at the performance school. We were looking at a different role there but it wasn’t for me. I don’t really have the inclination just now to coach players below under-18 level.
“I would never close the door on Hearts. We have all left on good terms and Mrs Budge said she would have no problem giving me a reference if I need one in the future.”
Keeping the door open
Endorsement from the owner of Hearts would be a useful feature in any job application. Naysmith is clear about what he wants but also pragmatic enough to know he may need to work his way towards it gradually.
“I always want to be a manager, that’s my first choice, but I’m open to anything. I enjoyed the loans manager job with Hearts, a reserve coaching role or an under-20 coaching role would interest me,” he said.
“I wouldn’t rule anything out, especially just now because there aren’t a lot of jobs going. If you just hold out for a manager’s job, especially in Scotland, there is a lot of competition and you don’t know when the next one will come up.
“I always try to be a realist. The Championship, League One and League Two are the levels I would need to go back into if I want to be a manager again.
“Those leagues start in October so all the managers should be getting a few months in the job, therefore you are looking at next year. Then there will be lots of people applying for any job. You need to hope your CV gets you an interview, then you need to try and impress in the interview.
“I’m well aware it’s going to be difficult to get back into management in Scotland, but I’m open to most things. I would work abroad or I’d work down in England with an under-20 or an under-23 team.”
He lost his job at Queen of the South in May 2019, just three months before rejoining Hearts. It taught him the ruthless side of football management. He feels confident that episode made him both stronger and better equipped for the future.
“I had more than 250 games as a manager in four or five years between East Fife and Queen of the South, then I was out the door.
"The first bad run I had and I was gone so you have to learn from that, and I’ve done that. I’ve done a lot of self-analysing so that the experience makes me a better manager.
“I understand why I lost my job at Queen of the South but a few months before that, in the January, we were sitting in the top four and I was Manager of the Month. We were in the last 16 of the Scottish Cup after knocking Dundee out and I thought everything was on an upward curve.
“You have to take some accountability yourself and there were maybe a couple of bad team selections on my part. There were a couple of things I could have done better, then we had some injuries and the squad wasn’t big enough to cope. We didn’t win in seven games and before you know it I’m out the door.
“That was the start of May but at the end of January I had been Manager of the Month and we’re in the last 16 of the Scottish Cup. Because we fell down the table and the play-offs were coming up, the chairman felt he needed to make a change.
“That was the first bad run we had. I don’t think we had lost three games in a row before that despite having one of the smallest budgets in the league – and that was getting cut each year.”
Although out of management for 14 months, Naysmith explained why he is fully prepared to step back into a dugout at any time.
Hankering for management
“The job with Hearts kept me involved last year – watching reserves, Championship, League One, League Two. If a management job came up in Scotland that I wanted, I feel I’ve got a good grasp of the game,” he said.
"If somebody asked me what formation Edinburgh City use, or what style of football do Cowdenbeath play, I would know most teams from the Championship down. I watched nearly 80 games last year.
“I always remember wee Robbo [John Robertson] telling me he thought he was doing well in the jobs he was in, then he found himself out of management for five years. I don’t want that to happen.”
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