AN unhealthy preoccupation with modern technology in general and social media in particular is frequently blamed for the inability of the new generation of Scottish footballers to cope with life at the sharp end of the game.
But as he prepared for a Nations League match against Israel here this evening that will go a long way towards determining whether Scotland secure a Euro 2020 play-off place, Steven Naismith expressed an entirely different view; he believes his young team mates’ love of Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter is helping them make the step up.
Alex McLeish has given debuts and extensive game time to a plethora of promising young players – including Oli McBurnie, Scott McKenna, Scott McTominay and John Souttar– since taking charge of the national team for the second time back in February and is set to field a few of them again in the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa.
Many of the new players he has blooded helped Scotland get their campaign off to a winning start with a 2-0 win over Albania at Hampden last month. But can they get a draw or even a victory in an international match away from home? It is an altogether more difficult task.
Yet, Naismith – who will edge closer to his 50th cap and a place in the Hall of Fame, if, as is almost certain, he starts tonight – loves the youthful confidence of his new team mates and has no concerns about them having the mental fortitude to cope with the occasion.
In fact, the Hearts forward, who has now been involved in six failed campaigns since making his debut back in 2007, feels their enthusiasm and exuberance could prove to be significant as the national team bid to reach their first major finals since France ’98.
In fact, the Hearts forward, who has been involved in six failed campaigns since making his debut back in 2007, feels their enthusiasm and exuberance could prove to be significant as the national team bid to reach their first major finals since France ’98.
“I wouldn’t say I feel old, but the energy of these guys is great,” he said. “When I was younger that was a big part of my game, the energy. Having had a career and got to the age of 32, I appreciate that more in players than probably the fans or media do.
“It lifts everybody else in the team and we showed that in the last game, with the energy levels, how we pushed forward to attack and weren’t scared about what was behind us. It was great to be involved in that.
“In this squad having the amount of youngsters with no fear is a big one. That’s a big difference. In the last five or six years there has been a massive shift in the mentality of players.
“In some respects they are maybe weaker in that they can’t be bawled at and shouted at. But in other respects they are actually more solid because social media is there and everyday in life they are getting pelters from somebody.
“The amount of players I have seen: ‘Oh he’s just hating’. I couldn’t handle it! But with them, it doesn’t affect them. And that is a good thing going forward.”
Naismith added “There is no fear and I had that when I first came into the Kilmarnock first team and then moved to Rangers. You have not experienced the past so you don’t understand some of the things that could go wrong. They are never on your mind.
“It’s all good like: ‘This is amazing! I’m in the Scotland squad and I’m just going to go out and play!’ It was the same for me when I was starting out. It’s refreshing that we’ve got that, especially considering the way the manger wants us to play.
“You need to be brave. You need to want to take the ball. One of the biggest things I noticed last time was that everyone is keen and hungry. They want the ball and are keen to make an impression.”
“There are a lot of players in the moment where they are hungry to improve their careers. Scott McKenna has just been knocked back for a move for £7m odd million to move to England. He will be hungry to get down, move on and progress. John Souttar as well. There are so many. John McGinn has just done it.
“They will understand that the international team carries a lot of weight and to be the first group to get to a finals in 20 odd years, that again will carry much more weight. That’s the hope for this group.”
Naismith has certainly had to develop a thick skin to enjoy the career that he had with club and country. He was booed and jeered by fans of his former club Rangers every time he touched the ball at Ibrox on Sunday. But the Hearts centre forward was unfazed by the abuse he received.
“I got a better reception than last year,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s football. It doesn’t bother me to be honest.
“The winning mentality is something you need to have. There are moments it boils over and you run the risk of being punished. And I have been punished for it in the past. But I would sit here quite comfortably and say I have maximised my career; for my ability, everything I have, I have maximised it. That is down to attitude and mentality 100 per cent.
“I first saw it with Barry Ferguson at Rangers. You would be in training and he is bawling his head off because you missed a chance. But it’s because he wanted to win. I learned so much from that first year at Rangers about a winning mentality – the best who go the furthest are the ones who want to win the most.”
That attitude has helped him get to the brink of a half century of caps. Having initially been overlooked for the Belgium and Albania squad last month, only to be called in later and play in both matches, he savours his involvement now more than ever.
“Looking back on it now, I missed it more than I thought I did,” he said. “It is great to be here and long may it continue.”
“I have always been one where, as regards highlights of my career, Scotland caps have been up there because you grow up going to the games and you see it and then you are on the pitch.
“I definitely have more of an appreciation for them now. A lot of things in your career, when you are younger, are a bit of blur. They just happen to you. You then look back on it.
“I have had a wee gap when I’ve been out of the squad or even towards the end when there were a couple of games home and away when I didn’t have much of a chance of playing. That has made me have more of an appreciation of it.”
“It (his 50th cap) is close! Again, touching on when I wasn’t in the squad I maybe gave up hope of getting that at some point. I am not banking on it yet. I am just taking them as they come. It would a dream come true if I could hit that mark.”