IT is the school of hard knocks and big bucks.
It is the football catwalk where glamour abounds and the best in the world strut their stuff.
A 27-year-old from Stewarton, Ayrshire, has nudged himself to the forefront of the stage for the most watched drama in the football world. The Scottish contingent in the Barclays Premier League includes Allan McGregor, Darren Fletcher, James Morrison, Robert Snodgrass and new recruit Andrew Robertson who has joined Hull City.
Steven Naismith of Everton now embarks on his third season in the Big League. His views on what the world can expect from the 2014-2015 campaign are made with the benefit of hard-won experience and in the expectation that his side, Everton, can maintain the progress achieved under Roberto Martinez last season.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Naismith talked about the issues and personalities that will permeate another series of episodes in what has become football's most popular soap opera.
ON Andrew Robertson who has joined Hull City from Dundee United . . .
I?¯spoke to him at the Nigeria international. He was unsure then whether it [a transfer to England] would happen for him. It has worked out well for him. It is a good move but he needs to play. Whether he goes out on loan or whether he is ready for that first team, time will tell. But it is important at his age to play regularly and competitively. He is definitely good enough to play down here. Definitely.
ON giving him advice . . .
I?¯would tell him not to rush into anything in terms of where you want to live. He only moved a year before to Dundee so he knows what it is like to move away. This is a much bigger step but he is ready for it. He is very intelligent, down to earth boy and he understands the hard work that is needed. He has Snoddy [Robert Snodgrass] and Greegsy [Allan McGregor] at the club so that will make the transition that wee bit more comfortable.
ON coming to the Premier League from Scotland . . .
It is a huge step-up. The level of player is so much higher. But Andy was making a name for himself on the international scene so he has played at the top level. He will find it tough at the start but it won't take him long to settle in. He knows the level that is required because he has trained and played with Premier League players on Scotland trips.
ON what is needed in the Premier League . . .
Focus. There is always a job to do. I?¯need to know where the centre-half is, I?¯need to track runners, I?¯need to close down defenders. And all that is when you don't have the ball . . .
ON the shock of the new . . .
I?¯was stunned when I?¯arrived at Everton and experienced the quality of player that I?¯went into training with. I?¯had played against [Lionel] Messi, against Lilian Thuram. But that is different. In a game situation, you do not quite see precisely the technique or appreciate the skill. You are too caught up in what you should be doing, too involved. But in training at Everton I?¯just kept saying: "Geez oh." The quality of these guys is extraordinary. [Steven] Piennaar [the 32-year-old South African midfielder] was incredible. I?¯was in awe of him for the first season but now I?¯enjoy playing with him. I?¯am on his wavelength now and he is on my mine. That is what you learn over the years: you can improve, you can step up and it is a bit of a process more than anything else.
ON best player he has played against in England . . .
Good question but one I?¯cannot answer. You are just too involved to evaluate another's guy's performance, though I?¯do look at a game later and notice the flicks, the good passes and the movement. You never get time in a game to appreciate them. You watch your opposite number closely, you see what the opposition are trying to do. But it passes so quickly. I?¯see the skill on the park but I?¯don't take it in. I?¯have a runner to track or a defender to close down. Obviously, this is a league with great players but I?¯never look at the opposition with that on my mind. I?¯have never come off the pitch thinking: 'He is too tough.' I?¯like the challenge.
ON Everton's push for the top . . .
My favourite game was Arsenal [April 6, Everton won 3-0]. We played well. We knew if we beat them then we went above them. We started well and I?¯scored and we played a different system with me in the hole. Everything worked brilliantly that day. We were strong, quick, powerful and inventive. A great performance.
ON his goals for this season . . .
Top four is hard. But we have to look to better last season whether it is position or in points won. We need to have to have a good start, then we need to win a European place, and then we will think about fourth. It's a progression. That is the way it works. As the season plays out you understand where you are and what you want. All the top teams have bought big. Man Utd will probably be a bigger force this year. You will have the surprise package and that role was Southampton last year.
ON the rising talents in England . . .
John Stones has the ability to come through. [The 20-year-old central defender has just signed a five-year deal with Everton]. The amount of games he has had already will help him. Stones has as much potential as Ross Barkley or Rom [Lukaku] has. Easily. That not an aggeration. He has that level of ability. He is not just a defender. He is a player. He will bomb into midfield, take a touch and play. He has the whole lot. The limelight was not quite on him last season because of Ross and Rom but John Stones has big potential
ON the possible surprise team . . .
Leicester will do well at home. They are a good team, well organised. They have not signed too many massive names but they have a good squad and they might do well.
ON the neighbours . . .
Liverpool will be a different team. A lot of times last season they could just play the simple pass to [Luis] Suarez. And the next minute it is a goal. They do not have that any more but the good news is that they have signed an excellent core group of players. [Adam] Lallana is real quality, [Rickie] Lambert gives them a different option so you might find them going a bit diagonal. They will be a different team and it will be interesting to see the systems they play. They have spent a lot of money but it has been on quality players. You have to expect them to improve again.
ON his personal ambition . . .
I?¯want to be a main part of the squad, to be seen as a main player. I do not care if it is me scoring goals but I?¯must contribute. The first season I?¯was just trying to find my feet and last season I?¯produced a bit. I?¯hope I?¯can produce more this season.
ON Roberto Martinez . . .
I?¯love the way he works. I?¯think he trusts me a lot with the decisions he makes . He wants my input.
He gives you instructions and has the faith in you to carry them out. An impressive man and manager.
ON who will win the league . . .
The only certainty is the unpredictability. There are too many teams fighting for the top spots so there will be surprises.