Hearts' Steven Naismith stays on with Scotland as Steve Clarke puts plan in place for life after him
The former Hearts striker was brought into the Scotland set-up last month as a stand-in for Austin MacPhee after the Aston Villa set-piece specialist was forced to miss his maiden trip with Scotland due to Covid.
MacPhee has now recovered and is able to make a belated bow as coach at the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against Israel and the Faroe Islands. However, Clarke confirmed Naismith's services as an auxiliary coach are being retained for now – and others could follow in his footsteps.
The ease with which the current Hearts coach has fitted into the group has prompted Clarke to consider approaching others from the same generation of Scotland international footballers for help at younger age-group levels.
It is understood these players include the likes of James McFadden, Gary Caldwell, James Morrison and Kenny Miller and possibly, at a later date, former skipper Scott Brown, still currently playing at Aberdeen.
Clarke noted that Naismith, who made the last of his 51 international appearances less than two years ago, was mindful of his new position and was careful to avoid simply being a conduit between the staff and players.
The manager believes other “reasonably recent” international players with serious coaching intentions should be recruited by Scotland across the age-groups in what might be interpreted as a Liverpool bootroom-type set-up.
The Anfield club were once famous for developing their own managers through a system of appointing from within. Craig Brown was the last Scotland manager to make the step up from within the coaching team when he replaced Andy Roxburgh in 1993.
Brown was not a former international player, however. Clarke wants players involved whose achievements on the pitch with Scotland are recent enough to prove inspirational for a new generation.
McFadden has already spent a spell working with the international team during Alex McLeish’s second spell as manager.
“I am sort of toying with ideas and bouncing a few ideas off people,” explained Clarke. “I have just come out of a coaches’ meeting today, a meeting with the under-age coaches. I have been bouncing a few ideas off them and trying to see if we can put together a coherent plan to move forward, utilising some of the ex-internationals who are maybe a little bit closer to the dressing room.
“It might be worthwhile getting some of them involved at the younger age groups. They can go in and the younger players can look at them and say ‘Ooft’. They will remember them playing for Scotland and see how well they have done. And obviously to try and help the lads stay on the coaching path and try to give them a little help going forward.”
Clarke wants to prevent a situation where former players with so much to offer are lost to the international set-up, perhaps because of club commitments or simply because they have not been asked to put something back.
He suggested it could be a way of helping former players plot a route back into the game. There is little to trump experience of having played at international level.
“I think it is something we can definitely improve on if there is a vehicle to use them,” said Clarke.
“You have got to imagine these young, potential stars at 15, 16, 17, 18, 19. They are going to be star struck when you get somebody who has played 30, 40, 50 games for their country.
“Suddenly you put them in there and they can be part of the coaching environment. It can only be good for the young players to see that and it can only be good for the coaches as well.
“Some of the age-group coaches, Brian McLaughlin, Billy Stark or Scot Gemmill, might work with them. Then they get a phone call. What’s he like? It might give them a pathway back into the game as well. I think it is something that we can work on, something that hopefully we can do.
“Obviously budgets and whatever will play a part in it, but we definitely need to look to the future. I will only be here relatively short-term because that is just the nature of the game. We are looking at 10, 12 years down the line. Where are we going to be as a country? Are we going to be a pot four team or are we going to be a pot two team?
“Decisions you make now can influence that," added Clarke, who recently signed a new contract running to the end of Euro 2004. "Hopefully we can have some bearing on that now. Listen, my job is to get results for the A team. But you still have to lay the groundwork for future generations.
“You might suddenly find a coach and you think: ‘Wow! Let’s keep him on board’. Maybe they can work through the system and ultimately sit in this hotseat. You never know.
“I’ll not be here forever,” he added. “Definitely not in this job.”
Clarke has praised Naismith’s contribution earlier this month as Scotland took six points from three games against Denmark, Moldova and Austria to re-ignite their World Cup qualification ambitions.
“Steven jumped in at the last minute to help us last time round, which was really good of him,” he said.
"I’ve managed to keep Naisy on board for this camp as well, so the backroom staff is good.
“With Steven, he’s great. I knew him as a player. You get him in as a coach and he was good with the players. He didn’t suddenly become the players’ mate again. He recognised position within the group. He helped John Carver a lot on the training pitch, doing little bits to help share workload.
“Myself and John appreciated Steven’s help so it’s nice to keep him on board for this one.”