School of hard knocks is making of Steven Naismith

Scotland star Steven Naismith. Picture: SNS
Scotland star Steven Naismith. Picture: SNS
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GORDON Strachan is discussing character. He says that physical and psychological blows help build it. He is talking about Steven Naismith but he could be talking about the entire Scottish football nation, given how many haymakers have been landed during recent qualifying campaigns, writes Moira Gordon.

Naismith has come back from his setbacks stronger and the hope is that Scotland can follow suit when the Euro 2016 qualifiers begin next season. “We’re definitely pleased with him. He’s had bad injuries but that’s all character forming. It’s very unusual for real characters to have gone through life without taking physical and mental knocks and he has probably been the most influential figure in the last couple of games. Naisy’s value to the squad has gone up.

“He’s always been valued as a top player and a great lad to have about the squad but I think now – and he’ll say himself – that those two games have been terrific for him. He’s made us play better.”

The squad is better and, having got up off the mat, the nation’s expectation levels have risen as well. It’s not something that troubles the Scotland manager.

“The fact that you can make a nation happy Is an incredible thing. That’s the biggest thing about being an international manager. You literally can help to make a nation happy with the players’ work. On the downside, you can make them unhappy as well. But, listen, we can’t go about saying that we’re not enjoying winning. We are enjoying winning and it does make a difference to our lifestyle, the players and coaches. And I hope it does the same to supporters as well.

“You can only dream about giving them what they are after. It would be great to give them a tournament.”

But perspective is everything. With one campaign put to bed and the nightmares quelled, the nation is dreaming big dreams again. But Strachan knows that an unkind draw or even the loss of a few keys players through bad form or a bad injury could wreak havoc. He is still irked by refereeing decisions which cost the team in the early days of the doomed World Cup campaign and knows that, like Bosnia and Iceland this time, Scotland will need a more favourable group when the Euro draw is made in February.

“Have a look at some of the other groups and then have a look at some of the players we were up against. At one point Belgium and Croatia were probably two of the best sides in the world – top five – then you’re talking about Wales, who probably possess the third best player in the world, and without Gareth Bale in the first game, it would’ve been a victory for Scotland, for sure.

“So I look at some of the teams that qualified and thought: ‘I could’ve done with being in your group’. We are the most important thing but the draw definitely helps. But the Euro qualifiers are still a year away and some players by then could have lost form. So what we’ve got to do with the games coming up [against USA and Norway next month] is use them and the training to bed in the systems we’re trying to use.”

Again it’s about perspective. “I used to look at those games when I was a club manager and think: ‘Is it really that important?’ Now I’m in a different position. I’m an international manager and I can see why they took friendlies. But there has to be a decent standard to make it worthwhile and I think the two games we’ve got are of a real good standard.

“So it’ll be worthwhile for the players and myself.”