Steven Naismith signed for Hearts for the second time in just seven months yesterday. The changes at the club since then and now have been dramatic.
When Naismith first arrived on loan from Norwich City earlier this year, manager Craig Levein admitted the move was informed by a need to add experience to a team that had begun to rely too heavily on a raft of teenagers.
When the season ended, Levein knew what needed to be done. As well as seeking to retain Naismith, one of his primary aims, he focused on recruiting players with some miles already on the clock. Those he knew could hit the ground running.
The re-capture of Naismith has taken slightly longer than expected. But his return on loan, this time for 12 months and which effectively cuts his ties with Norwich City, was finally confirmed yesterday.
Naismith is Hearts’ 11th signing of the summer. Among these new recruits, there are those he already knows, such as veteran striker Steven MacLean, and others he does not. “It’s been hard, there are that many new faces and you’re shaking so many hands that you forget names,” he said.
“It was needed,” he added. “There was a big gap in the squad and it was unfair on the young players. On one hand they are buzzing because they’re in the squad and they’re getting game time. But when you look at the bigger picture it’s probably not as good for them because some of the results were bad and they were getting a hard time for not performing. When I was that age I found it tough so it was needed. It’s a chance for them now to say: ‘I want to be part of this’, and step up to the plate.
“The new guys seem hungry,” Naismith added. “They’re all keen to stamp their authority on what they can bring to the squad that will be good for us as a whole.”
One consequence of such an influx is the knowledge he can no longer afford to expect to play. The same applies to Kyle Lafferty, Naismith’s strike-partner on occasion last season.
“He did well,” said Naismith of Lafferty, who struck 19 times last season. “He’s got to be somebody who continues on from that. He can’t just rest on his laurels and think ‘I did well last season.’
“One thing I would say is there’s more competition for places up front now,” Naismith added. “That goes for myself as well. I played in the forward positions and maybe went in to games last season knowing that you would be involved whereas this season it’s not so much of a shoo-in.”
By returning to Hearts it feels as if Naismith has called time to his English adventures, which began by accident rather than design. “If I am honest I did not really have any ambitions to go to England,” he reflected.
“I was happy when I was at Rangers and loving every minute of it. Then circumstances changed and you are forced into a decision.”
Other English Championship sides expressed interest in him this summer. Who knows what might happen next summer? As the tattoo makes clear on his right arm: What’s for you won’t go past you.
He retains hopes of reaching 50 international caps. He is currently on 45 and would have gone on Scotland’s summer tour to South and North America were it not for a niggling Achilles injury.
But he’s happy to settle at Hearts for another season at least. The timing has been perfect in one sense since the slight hold-up meant missing the punishing fitness work meted out to his teammates at Gullane beach earlier this week. But he feels in good shape in any case after a week’s training with Norwich City. It was also a chance for him to say some farewells.
“The loan is until the end of the season,” he explained. “Inevitably, I will not be getting a new contract at Norwich so it is what it is.
“I was not going to be involved this season and so for me, as you get older, I want to play as much as I can. You don’t want to waste seasons. It was a pretty straightforward decision [to come back to Hearts] in the end.”