STEVEN Naismith has predicted Leigh Griffiths will be far better placed to fire Scotland to the Euro 2020 finals when he returns from his international sabbatical.

Griffiths has withdrawn from the national squad for the double header against Israel and Portugal this week in order to “focus on fitness”.

The surprise move has raised fears that the Celtic striker, who became a Tartan Army hero when he scored two goals against England at Hampden last year, will chose not to represent his country in future.

But Naismith, preferred to his compatriot in the Nations League opener against Albania last month, can understand his decision fully and believes Scotland will benefit in the future.

He himself asked manager Alex McLeish to be left out of the summer tour of Peru and Mexico so he could recover from a niggling injury and has been outstanding this season and Hearts have moved to first place in the Ladbrokes Premiership as a result.

“It is a situation where people will think: ‘That’s crazy. How can he do that? He should be grateful’,” he said. “But I can understand it.

“If Griff doesn’t think he can come away and give his best then he is sacrificing himself to give someone else a chance and you have to appreciate that and understand that. Players go through these periods. It’s kind of like when I had something similar in the summer.

“I spoke to the manager and said: ‘Look, I’ve got a bit of an injury. It wouldn’t keep me out of a competitive game, but I don’t think I’d do myself justice or the team. If I sat it out, worked hard and came back’. That is obviously Griff’s mindset.

“Griff is a top player. Playing for the Old Firm in Scotland you get a lot of attention and he has had that. But he will deal with it the right way.”

Griffiths has assured Scotland supporters he will return and wear the dark blue of his country in future and Naismith has no doubts he will be involved again following the Israel and Portugal matches.

Asked if he thought his fellow forward had turned his back on the national team, he said: “No, I don’t think so. Griff’s has been in a lot of squads where he has not played a lot of games, but he has continued to turn up.

“If anything he is coming to a time in his career when he is reaching his peak. Why would you want to miss out on international football when you are coming into that period?

“Some people will see it that way ( that Griffiths has turned his back on Scottish football). If anything Griff is too honest for his own good sometimes.

“He is a forward who wants to play. His comments about ‘kick in the teeth’ and that? I can understand what he is saying. He is not saying ‘I am not going to try from now on’. He is saying ‘it’s a blow’. Every week at every club players take a blow.

“It is how you react to it. He has worked hard and scored a few goals for Celtic. But if he has come to this conclusion this trip then that’s fair enough. In a year’s time we might be sitting here thinking we are close to going to the Euros and Griff’s a big part of that. Why would you not want to be a part of it?”

Naismith added: “Since I have been in the international team there’s been a few players that have taken time out.

“James McArthur has done the same. He thinks he needs to focus on longevity and it’s not in the press. But because Griff is at the Old Firm and he is a goalscorer it’s being talked about more. That’s it for me, to be honest.

“If you believe in your ability and think you are good enough then it is about making the right choices.

“There might be times when you need to work through an injury and play in a game. But there might be times when you might think I will do myself more damage in terms of reputation and the thoughts of the manager. It’s literally down to that.

“For the modern day player playing internationals you don’t really get a rest. I think there has to be more management throughout a season and that’s why you will see managers giving players more time off and leaving them out some games.

“I don’t think you can look negatively on someone who is brave enough and who trusts in their ability to get back into the squad.”

Naismith, who was originally overlooked for the Belgium and Albania squad only to receive a late call-up and start the latter match, insisted the Scotland players would have no problem welcoming Griffiths back into the fold.

“They are good characters,” he said. “I think even this trip I have bumped into a few of the boys who have not been in a squad with before, it just naturally happens. There is a familiarity about the process, and meeting up. The players slip into that.

“A lot of the younger boys have been around each other at club level or past clubs or in Scotland youth teams – that’s probably the biggest connection. The older ones try just try to fit in by leading by example in terms of dealing away for a few days. It’s a good group to be involved in that.”

HeraldScotland | Sport

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