THE LEADING CONTENDERS
Naismith is industrious, energetic and fits into all the stereotypes we associate with a Craig Levein side. But, more importantly, he’s an intelligent footballer. Hearts don’t necessarily require a new goalscorer, not before other positions are filled. However, what they severely lack is a striker who’s going to do the basics well and provide enough of a threat in the opposition penalty box. Kyle Lafferty and Esmael Goncalves are too mercurial to work as a pairing, while Cole Stockton isn’t a goal threat. Adding someone like Naismith alongside either of the former two could see them improve their play, or at least allow their eccentricities to become accommodated within the framework of a team.
Even if they don’t plan on using him up front, there is a void at attacking midfield left by the sale of Jamie Walker. He may not be the type of creator who’s going to turn Hearts into an aesthetically pleasing side, but he’s still a talent who’ll improve what’s already at the position, which isn’t much at present.
It would be a shame to break up the Eamonn Brophy-Kris Boyd partnership, especially as the former has been in such great form of late and would naturally be the man to drop out of the side if Naismith signed. However, while Brophy represents a bright prospect for the future, we can only assume Naismith would be a huge upgrade at present, and it would delight fans to see the former Boydy-Naisy pairing - the two played together as youngsters in the mid-00s - reunited in 2018.
Another possibility would be for Naismith to replace Jordan Jones if the winger leaves in the January window. He is said to be attracting interest from Rangers and Burnley and the club may be tempted by a fair offer. It would enable Steve Clarke to set out his side in a 4-4-2 diamond, with Naismith at the tip in front of an intimidating trio of Gary Dicker, Alan Power and Youssouf Mulumbu, without marginalising what’s currently one of the brightest stars on his team.
Naismith’s fit at Rangers would depend on how much left he’s got in the tank. We’re talking about a player who’s featured just three times this campaign, is on the wrong side of 30, and has been left out in the cold by a Championship club. In Kenny Miller, presuming the evergreen 38-year-old will be able to regain full fitness within the next month or so, Rangers already have a second striker who does a lot of graft outside the penalty area. Would they need another?
Short answer: yes. Considering he still featured in 34 games last season, is only 18 months removed from being a Premier League player and last received a Scotland cap under a year ago, you’d have to think Naismith would be a hit back in his home nation. Jamie Murphy’s arrival kind of clouds the water, as he’s a similar type of player in the respect that he’s a versatile forward, but as we’ve mentioned so many times this term, Rangers have a shocking lack of depth. Adding another quality attacker to their arsenal can only be a good thing. At the moment, however, it doesn’t seem like the club (believed to be his first choice) are particularly interested.
THE REST (WHO COULD REALISTICALLY SIGN HIM)
Hearts are in for him, so don’t be too surprised if Hibs are keeping an eye on things as well. The two Edinburgh sides have routinely chased the same striker over the last year, so why not do it again?
Well, from Hibs perspective, he’s probably not the kind of attacker they need right now. Of course, if you’re Neil Lennon and you have the chance to sign Steven Naismith on a short-term loan to bolster your chances of finishing second and enjoying a lengthy cup run, you do it. But unless there’s money going spare, it’s a position where there’s already a lot of cover, especially after the capture of Jamie Maclaren. Furthermore, Naismith’s never been much of a regular goalscorer, and that’s what the Hibees crave more than anything out of this window.
For all the reasons Hibs wouldn’t sign him, you can apply them to Aberdeen. For a team that often plays with one up front, they arguably have even more depth in attack. Stevie May, Adam Rooney and Nicky Maynard are the out-and-out strikers, while Niall McGinn, Greg Stewart, Ryan Christie, Scott Wright, Gary Mackay-Steven and Kenny McLean can all play in the supporting three. If they need any sort of forward it’s a target man, not a little terrier.
The last of the three teams who could outbid Hearts, and not already linked with the player, Celtic could make this a banter signing, especially if Rangers suddenly become interested, but there would be little other reason to do so.
Hearts are probably crying out for this type of forward the most out of those mentioned, and such a capture would come at an ideal time with the must-win Scottish Cup derby against Hibs just over a week away. However, Naismith would probably prefer to return to one of his former homes. He’s said money is no objective and, if he’s true to his word, then Killie would still be in the mix, though it would depend on whether Norwich would be prepared to cut ties. If they’re uncompromising in their stance that the player must only leave on loan, then Hearts would be favoured in this two-way battle because they (using the funds from the Walker sale) could likely pay a higher percentage of his wages. Rangers could trump both of them, but whether they have the desire (or the funds) to make the deal remains to be seen.
- An earlier version of this article said Jordan Jones was out of contract at the end of the season. He is, in fact, contracted until 2019.