Veteran striker Kenny Miller hopes 2020 is when Scotland finally end a 22-year exile from the finals of major competitions – and has tipped another old head to fire the national team back into the big-time.
Miller, who won the last of his 69 caps in 2013, believes Hearts’ Steven Naismith, provided he is fully fit, should lead the line in the play-offs against Israel and then either Norway or Serbia in March to qualify for Euro 20 this summer.
Naismith, 33, has started only six games for the Tynecastle club this season and has not played since limping off with a hamstring problem during the 2-1 defeat by Hamilton on 21 December, but, when asked who should lead the attack in the country’s biggest games since the 6-0 play-off defeat by Holland in 2003, Miller was in no doubt.
“I think Steven Naismith – but a fully fit Steven Naismith,” he said. “I was delighted to see Naisy get his 50th cap against Cyprus in November and to lead the team out on the day. It was well deserved. He’s been a fantastic servant for the country and a really good player. Striker has been a problem position for Scotland but a fully-fit Naisy brings a bit of everything.
“There is a cleverness to his play. He’s got the experience that Scotland need in and around the squad. He can hold the ball up, he works hard, he’s very strong in the air and he can pop up with a goal.
“ He unsettles defences but he also leads. He demands from his team-mates and he instructs them.
“He has a good effect on the players around him, for club and country. He brings the whole package. So, for me, Naisy at his best brings a lot to the table.
“Leigh Griffiths would be another obvious option. If he was back at his best by March, then he would be vying for that position.”
Miller also accepts that a case could be made for Dundee United’s prolific Lawrence Shankland, although he sees him as more of a back-up player at the moment.
“Lawrence is coming through and he’s having a fantastic season,” he said. “He can only learn and get better from being involved with two squads with Scotland so far. The level of player around him – and not just the strikers – will help him improve as a player and help him get to where he wants to go.
“There’s no doubt that if he keeps performing at the level he has done then he can go on and do well for Scotland because I believe there’s more to him than just his goals. When you know what you’re talking about you can see it and I saw in his first four or five touches against Russia – they were really assured and clever. He was putting himself in the right positions to help his team get up the pitch.
“Then the wheels fell off for the team in the last half-hour of that match and Lawrence wasn’t seen much as an attacking force but you could see good wee signs in his game.
“Just like Kris Boyd, a lot of people look at Lawrence’s goals and that’s all they see. Putting the ball in the back of the net is the most important thing but there’s more to him than that. He’ll develop as long as he’s open to learning and improving.”
Sheffield United’s £20 million target man Oli McBurnie is another candidate but Miller believes that Naismith should be manager Steve Clarke’s go-to guy. “I personally think Naisy is the best suited but he has to be playing regularly,” he said.
“I know what Naisy brings to the team. I’ve played with him for Rangers and Scotland and he would be in my team every day of the week. That’s not an old pals’ act, either; it’s me looking at the big picture and what’s best for the country and what’s required for the role.
“If you look at our midfield and our wide men we have some very strong players, boys who can create, boys who can score goals and boys who work hard. Naisy can bring all of that together – he’s the best of what’s available. Oli McBurnie is playing in the Premier League and he cost a lot of money and he is another option. But for me a fully-fit Naisy is the best choice.”