Euro 2024 draw can only motivate Hearts' international hopefuls

Steven Naismith says knowing what games await Scotland will intensify desire.

Euro 2024 draw can only motivate Hearts’ international hopefuls SNS Group

Hearts manager Steven Naismith sees this weekend’s Euro 2024 draw as an event that will crystallise ambition in his international players and add to their motivation.

Lawrence Shankland, Zander Clark and Craig Gordon are all likely to be in contention for a place in Steve Clarke’s squad for next year’s finals in Germany.

Saturday’s draw will reveal the identity of Scotland’s group stage opponents, with some big names potentially lying in wait.

Naismith, who earned 51 international caps but saw his Scotland career end before Euro 2020, says the clarity of the draw will help those in contention visualise the event and want to make sure they don’t miss out.

“I think the players who are all in contention have that desire and drive to get to the national team squad for a championship,” he said.

“What the draw does is cements everything and makes it a bit clearer.

“You don’t know who you’re going to get. In France ’98 you’re opening the World Cup against Brazil. Players are looking at that and thinking ‘Wow’.

“It’s a similar kind of thing here. They’ll see the games they get and it probably just intensifies the desire that feeling that ‘I really want to make it to that squad’.

“So yes, I think it can be used for them individually to spur them on.”

Naismith has spent time as part of the coaching set-up under Clarke but stopped to give his full focus to Hearts when appointed to his first management job. He described the experience as “brilliant” and said that he can pass on information to his players to help them achieve their dream.

“I can give an indication of what the manager expects and what he looks for in players,” he said. “Not just in terms of natural ability or positional play or whatever that may be. It’s not solely down to ability.

“Steve Clarke’s really big on the type of character too. He’s built a group of players that complement each other. It’s not just ability, he wants players who enhance the group whether they are playing or not.

“It probably makes the motivation side easier for us as managers. If you’ve got a real chance of being there, if you’re a player and you’re in the group that can make it, that’s the drive. It’s got to be their drive.”

The Hearts boss, who is preparing his side for the trip to Kilmarnock on Saturday, also shared his thoughts on the challenges facing Scottish sides in Europe.

Hearts failed to reach the group stage of the Europa Conference League this season, and over the past week Celtic have lost to Lazio, Aberdeen drew with HJK Helsinki and Rangers could only take a point from their home match against Aris Limassol.

Naismith believes the football authorities need to step up and support their representatives in continental competition, with the current situation meaning he “feels sorry for anyone that gets into Europe”.

“From being part of one of the teams that has [struggled with Europe], I feel sorry for us all because there’s not much help,” he said.

“You can push the narrative wherever in terms of who makes that decision but ultimately we’re a members organisation and we should be able to give ourselves the best chance to progress in Europe and inevitably help our product.

“That’s the biggest thing that can change.

“We can talk about spending more money and getting bigger squads but if your players don’t consistently get the opportunity, that’s the biggest thing that’s going to drop you off.

“You can buy the biggest squad you want but if it’s their first time in Europe then the demand of playing constantly twice a week is where you lose your consistency, you lose points domestically and inevitably the manager comes under pressure and they change again.

“But if we’re not going to give ourselves the best chance and the best rest and proper recuperation and research and preparation for games then we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”

The former Rangers striker said: “For me, that’s been from I started as a player until now.

“We experienced it at Rangers when we are getting to a European final and cramming games in just to finish whenever we should finish.

“There’s so many over the years that I think every club that’s been in Europe has an argument to say ‘We were hard done by’.

“Until something like that changes, I’m not going to sit and criticise any team on how they did in Europe when I know how difficult it can be and the small margins that can make a difference.

“I probably feel sorry for anyone that gets in Europe but the demand domestically is to get there and reach group stages and move on.

“But at least give us as a country a good chance.”

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