STEVEN Naismith met up briefly with his Scotland team mates at their base just outside Edinburgh at the start of this week as they began life under their new manager Steve Clarke.

The forward was receiving treatment from the national team’s physiotherapist as part of his ongoing rehabilitation from the knee surgery that he underwent back in March as they returned from training.

He is, though, confident he will be back in among Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Fraser and John McGinn for slightly longer and helping with their bid to reach the Euro 2020 finals once he regains full fitness. He is hopeful can win that elusive 50th cap for his country when he does.

The former Kilmarnock, Rangers, Everton and Norwich City player, who is currently in contract negotiations with Hearts, may be 32 and in the closing stretch of his long and eventful professional career.


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Yet, he feels Scotland will benefit from having experienced individuals like him, Steven Fletcher, David Marshall, Charlie Mulgrew and, should he choose to end his self-imposed international exile, Robert Snodgrass involved as they bid to reach the finals of a their first major tournament since France ’98.

He gets the impression that Clarke, inset, who called him after taking over from Alex McLeish last month to check if he was still committed to playing international football, shares his view.

“I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago not long after he took over the role,” he said. “I think he was checking round most players to see where everybody was sitting in terms of wanting to be involved or not. I certainly do.

“First of all, sitting at 49 caps is one thing, but just in general, being involved with Scotland. I’ve loved every minute of it. We’ve had some tough times, some optimistic times, but I think this is genuinely the biggest chance we’ve had.

“You’ve got the chance of getting to a Euros and to experience that. I speak to Davie Weir and he was a young guy when he went to France ‘98. Just to experience it would probably be one of the best things you’d do in your career.”


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Clarke has sensed that senior members of the Scotland set-up had felt marginalised by his predecessor since taking over. Naismith admitted the influx of younger players had been noticeable under McLeish. He also confessed that when he was overlooked for the friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary last March he feared the end may be nigh.

“I thought when I came back in that there was a big transition,” he said. “I think there was only me, Charlie, Snoddy and Greegsy from the previous few squads and you’re thinking ‘woah, this is a big change’. It was quite drastic. But every manager has their own way of working.

“There had been a squad before the summer which I didn’t make. The manager said he was going to go with some of the younger boys and see what we could do.

“At that point you think it might not be happening any more for you. But then I started the season well, got the chance and took it.”

There was never any possibility of Naismith, as several of his contemporaries did, retiring or declining to be considered for selection. He believes he can be an invaluable member of the Scotland side in their Group I fixtures after the Cyprus and Belgium games.


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“I think there is a place for it (experience),” he said. “It probably showed last year with me and Fletch coming back and doing the job. You do learn a bit more tactics and have nous about how to manage games as you get older. Club football can be end to end and box to box. International football is more of a chess match.”

Naismith successfully forced his way back into the national set-up - after being overlooked for successive squads - with his form up front for Hearts last season and it would be a surprise if he failed to commit his long-term future to the Tynecastle club this summer. He believes remaining in the capital offers him the best chance of featuring going forward.

“That is one of the biggest parts, if not the biggest part, of making the decision,” he said. “I want to give myself the best chance, if we make the Euros, to be in that squad. The first point is to get fit and get back into the team and hopefully show the manager that I am good enough.”

Naismith scored for Scotland in the Nations League game against Albania as well as the friendly with Portugal last year before injuries sidelined him. However, he knows he will have to impress Clarke to reclaim his place in the squad never mind the starting line-up.


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“That’s the best way,” he said. “That’s the way I would like it. It would probably taint it slightly if I got a 50th ‘jolly’ type cap. I’d rather work for it. Throughout my career I’ve worked for everything so I wouldn’t expect anything less. I’m sure I’ll give it a good crack to get fit and show him I’m good enough.”

Naismith is relishing the prospect of working with his fellow Ayrshireman Clarke. Having started out at Kilmarnock, he fully appreciates the job the new Scotland manager has done at Rugby Park in the last couple of seasons. He anticipated a bright future for the national team.

“Steve Clarke is a really experienced manager and knows what he wants,” he said. “When you’re away internationally you chat about the different club managers.

“Everyone who has worked with him has said how meticulous he is and how well they’re set out. It’s definitely something that I want to be involved in and I’ll do all I can through pre-season to make sure I’m there.”

Steven Naismith was at Hampden to launch nominations for the Scottish Football Hall of Fame. The public can nominate their football personality at Tables for the dinner on Sunday, October 27, can be secured by calling 01416204040.