Hearts striker Steven Naismith insists his body will tell him whether it is time to retire this summer.
The Scotland Hall of Famer has not lost the will to win, but admits he is not sure if he can tolerate the physical demands of professional football any longer, especially towards the end of a career hampered by knee issues.
Naismith has only managed 11 Championships starts this season ahead of tonight’s final outing of the campaign at Raith Rovers.
The 34-year-old, who has also taken his first steps into coaching after recently being enlisted by John Rankin to help coach the club’s under-18 side, will spend the initial few weeks of the close-season pondering his future.
If he does, he will look back on his time on the pitch with great pride.
The former Kilmarnock forward won three top-flight titles with Rangers before rubbing shoulders with the best in the English Premier League at Everton.
An £8 million transfer fee then changed hands when he joined Norwich City before moving to Tynecastle initially on loan in January 2018.
“Something that has always been at the back of my mind, especially after having some bad injuries, is that when I finish playing I still want to have a decent quality of life in terms of what I can do, fitness-wise, playing football, whatever,” said Naismith, who underwent two knee operations during the 2018/19 campaign, and has twice suffered serious cruciate ligament injuries in his time at Ibrox.
“I’ve noticed that over the past couple of years, your recovery takes slightly longer.
“You’re doing your sprints and you’re not running away from boys, they’re running away from you!
“I’m always thought that I’m not going to play until my body gives up, I don’t think that would be the right thing to do.
“I would say probably for the last two years over the summer I’ve sat and thought, ‘do I want to continue playing?’
“In all honesty that’s the only decision I’ll have.
“If I want to continue playing I’ll take my break, I’ll get as fit as I can and come back for pre-season and if I don’t want to then I’ll have the relevant conversations that need to be had.
“In terms of the enjoyment and will to win that’s always been there, and as much as that’s a big driver – that’s one of the things that will lead me to make the decision.”
It was not so long ago Naismith had harboured hopes of making Scotland’s Euro 2020 squad.
Had the tournament taken place last summer as planned, he would have been in with a shout.
He captained his country as he took his caps tally to 51 in appearances against Cyprus and Kazakhstan in November 2019.
He added: “If it was last summer I would have given myself a good chance of potentially being there.
“With the extra year, playing in the Championship, having a shorter season, finishing earlier, and then not playing in the last few weeks, it gives me no chance.
“But overall the Hall of Fame was the short-term biggest thing for me.
“At one stage it didn’t look like I would make it. So to get back involved was great, and when I did – working with the manager (Steve Clarke) was fantastic.
“I loved it and I think he appreciated me around the place, and what I brought to the group.
“Captaining in the team, I would never have thought I would ever have the chance to do it.
“So to do it twice, we won both games, I scored, it’s the proudest you can be as a player.
“And to be able to look back and say I played a very small part at the start to get us to the Euros is a nice feeling.
“I am immensely proud of my Scotland career if I am honest.”