BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
CRAIG LEVEIN readily admits Steven Naismith could choose to follow his bank balance to Saudi Arabia or embark on a similarly well-remunerated adventure to a far-flung land.
However, the Hearts manager believes the respect and appreciation he enjoys at Tynecastle will prove to be a priceless bargaining chip.
Naismith, 32, has been candid this week in his desire to remain with the capital club when his loan deal from Norwich expires at the end of the season, quipping that he would be ‘raging’ if Levein does not table an offer.
He need not worry.
Levein last night confirmed that he has already instigated transfer talks with his star striker, who scored 11 goals in 16 appearances for the Jambos this term prior to a recent knee injury.
Finances will a major talking point, with the experienced coach realistic enough to acknowledge that Hearts will be some way down his list of suitors in terms of the amount of zeroes they can write on a cheque.
Nevertheless, he is quietly confident that will not be a deal-breaker.
“We have been in constant dialogue with Steven,” said Levein. “He is at the point of his career where he is going to have to make a big decision. He is really well respected by myself, by [owner] Ann Budge, by the staff and by the players.
“He has come through a period at Norwich where he maybe did not feel loved or had a feeling that he could help. He is a very generous-spirited guy and likes helping. It is in his nature.
“He is a lovely guy and is desperate to help out the youngsters at the club. I’d love to keep him here. I think Steven knows how we feel about him!
“The financial side of things is not a massive stumbling block. There are various options that could net him more money than he would get here and he knows that. He could go to Saudi Arabia for two years and earn fortunes.
“Some players need to go and chase the money but I would have thought Steven would have been very sensible with his earnings over the years. So that would mean it’s down to lifestyle and enjoying himself.”
Tomorrow’s trip to Livingston will come too soon for Naismith, largely due to the firmness of the Lions’ artificial surface,
Naismith has not featured since limping out of Hearts’ 3-0 Betfred Cup semi-final defeat against Celtic and Levein fully expects his comeback to prove as inspirational as Christophe Berra’s recent return.
The Jambos have beaten Motherwell, drawn away to in-form St Johnstone and suffered a narrow, contentious defeat against Rangers in the three games Berra has been in the side since recovering from a hamstring tear.
“It’s no coincidence that we’ve been better the last three matches because Christophe’s been back in the team,” lauded Levein. “That is because of the solidity and extra determination he brings, and also the feeling his teammates get when he’s sitting in the dressing room with them.
“There is also the feeling the opposition gets when they look at the team sheet . . . ‘
“We’ll get that again when Naisy’s back, John Souttar’s back and Uche [Ikpeazu] is back. We’ve got boosts ahead of us. We’ve got [David] Vanecek coming in in January. He’ll be with us on the 5th of January so I can see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Remarkably, given last weekend’s 1-0 triumph over Motherwell was their first victory since October 23, Hearts remain firmly in the shake-up at the summit of the Premiership and will move level on points with league leaders Celtic with a victory in West Lothian on Friday night.
“It has been a crazy start to the season,” added Levein. “In recent years Celtic have started well and shot away into the horizon, leaving everybody chasing them, but they haven’t started so well this season.
“Rangers haven’t maintained that level of consistency that everybody thought they would. Aberdeen
“We started really well and then had loads of problems and we are hoping they are behind us and can kick on again.”