The 32-year-old has signed a four-year contract with the Gorgie club despite interest from sides in the MLS.
Clarke, the national coach and a fellow Ayrshireman, twice tried to sign Naismith when he was a club manager and the player said he would jump at the opportunity to work with him at international level.
After injuries curtailed his involvement for long chunks of last season, Naismith knows he has limited time to convince the Scotland boss of his fitness and form ahead of next month’s Euro 2020 qualifiers against Russia and Belgium.
He said: “I met him in the summer and although he is not going to promise me anything, he tried to sign me when I went to Everton [in 2012 when Clarke was manager at West Bromwich Albion] and then when I came back here he had a conversation with me about going to Kilmarnock, so I had a relationship there before. Even from his time at Kilmarnock. “I live in that area and you bump into him and we have a good relationship. He just said: ‘Get fit. You know I wanted to sign you, so there is a reason for me to pick you if you are doing well’. So, that’s what I’ve got to do. But that’s the same situation I was in with the old manager [Alex McLeish]. He came in and picked squads and I wasn’t in them, but I made sure I did make it into them and that is the same again. But the prize at the end of this season is much bigger.”
A prolific start to the last domestic campaign – scoring seven goals in eight games – meant that there was surprise when McLeish omitted the experienced attacker from his squad for the double header against Albania and Belgium last September.
He had not played since March the previous year but his form had catapulted him back into the spotlight and he was eventually called up for those games following call-offs. Naismith vindicated that decision by impressing as a second half substitute in the friendly with Belgium and then netting in the Nations League qualifier against Albania.
“I never thought I would get any more caps and I was genuinely saying to people – my dad and my missus – that was probably me done,” Naismith said. “So, when I didn’t get called up, when I thought I should have been called up but then got in two days later, I knew I needed to show what I could do. I noticed the manager had gone with a young squad and I just thought that if I could try to control things when I was training, then I knew I would become valuable and that is effectively what happened in the two, three, four games, whatever it was.”
Naismith, who has enjoyed two successful loan spells at Hearts during the last 18 months, took time to weigh up his next move as his contract with parent club Norwich City ran down. There was interest from the States but the player opted against a move across the Atlantic.
“It was family and it was just too big a gamble for me,” he explained. “Family was one side of it but the other side was the national team. People say, ‘well Johnny Russell does it’ but he is at the peak at his career, he is a young guy [Russell plays for Sporting Kansas City and continues to be chosen for Scotland]. But that was one of the biggest things. Outside of wanting to do well for Hearts, and pull the club as far forward as I can by doing my part, the biggest thing for me is the national team and getting to the Euros.”
After impressing for McLeish, Naismith did enough to ensure he was named in the next Scotland squad and he started against Israel and Portugal last season before injuries left him sidelined and stuck on 49 caps.
He still managed 16 goals in 31 games for club and country last term and is hoping to force his way into Clarke’s side and not only earn a place in the Scottish FA’s roll of honour for winning 50 caps but also a spot at Euro 2020, as the national side look to qualify for a major finals for the first time since 1998.
“We still have the Nations League, which is the
back-up, and there’s still the rest of this European campaign,” added Naismith. “I just have to work hard and make sure I’m in the squad and hope I can be there.”