Is the magic wearing off? On Sunday, for the first time since he arrived over a year ago, Steven Naismith scored and Hearts lost a game. Now he admits he is seriously considering a once-in-a-lifetime move to the United States.
The prospect will leave Hearts fans distraught. Before the weekend defeat by Motherwell, Hearts had won 19 of the 24 games the player had started this season. The Fir Park reversal, unfortunate though it was, is the first time Naismith has finished on the losing side at Hearts in a game where he has featured on the scoresheet.
Indeed, only once previously had he scored and Hearts not won – a 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock last season, when he struck his first goal for the club. So, when the player himself openly talks about fresh challenges and new horizons, it’s understandable if it prompts panic on the streets of Gorgie.
Naismith, 32, has earned the right to take his time before deciding his next step. But he is conscious of the toll on Hearts fans, who are anxiously awaiting news of his plans, and on his manager, Craig Levein, who revealed last week that the striker is contemplating a move to Major League Soccer.
“I’ve not given myself a deadline,” said. Naismith. “I’m realistic that I can’t drag the a*se out of it too much. But I’ll take as much time as I need. I’m not actively looking to find a move to there,” he added. “It’s more that at this stage of my career I don’t think there’s going to be another opportunity to do it.
“It’s whether you want it or not rather than ‘this club is in for me and I want to go’. That’s the decision I’ve got to make really. I’d say it’s probably the toughest one I’ve had to make in my career.”
In a way, Naismith is not Hearts’ player to lose. The player is contracted to Norwich City and theoretically could already have signed a pre-contract with another club. But his current contentment is reflected in his goal scoring form – 14 already this season, as well as two for Scotland. “I’m fortunate enough that I can sit and enjoy my football,” he said. “Like most of the moves I’ve made in my career, one day I’ll wake up and think ‘that’s the right thing to do’ and I’ll pursue that.”
Naismith admits a new life in the United States is tempting but he must consider other factors, such as the impact moving abroad might have on his international career. Naismith will earn his 50th cap for Scotland if he plays in the opening Euro 2020 qualifier against Kazakhstan next month, which, barring injury, he is almost certain to do. Scotland have two opportunities to reach the finals having finished top of their Nations League group last year. This could be Naismith’s last chance to play at a major tournament.
“My Scotland ambitions definitely come into it as well,” he admitted. “The gaffer (Levein) will do all he can to put me off I suppose! There are guys like Johnny Russell who have continued (to play for Scotland from MLS).”
There’s also lifestyle, family welfare and personal happiness to consider. “When you are younger it’s about money and playing at the highest level,” he said.
“That’s 90 per cent of a young player’s decision. As you get older things change and it’s more a case of ‘do I fancy that?’” He admits he’s slightly envious of younger players such as David Bates and Ryan Gauld who chose to go abroad earlier in their careers, to SV Hamburg and Sporting Lisbon respectively. Naismith moved to Rangers from Kilmarnock and then, following the Ibrox club’s financial meltdown, took the opportunity to move on freedom of contract to Everton.
“You look at young players like (David) Bates going to Germany. Ryan Gauld going to Portugal. I really admire that. “Back in the day I wish maybe I’d done that but I’ve enjoyed every bit of my career and I do think ‘why would I not try it?’ That’s what I’m swaying with. “The MLS is coming up as well (in terms of status). The family can watch it on TV as well, which makes it easier for them.”