He belongs to a bigger stage

There is much bitterness in the blue half of Glasgow over Steven Naismith’s departure but leaving his boyhood favourites was a tough decision for the player, writes Alex Taylor.

Rangers fans may never forgive Steven Naismith for the way in which his move to England came about but there is little doubt that it worked out well for both the player and Everton.

There is much bitterness in the blue half of Glasgow over Naismith’s departure but leaving his boyhood favourites was a tough decision for the player who has been an undoubted success south of the border.

Born in Irvine in 1986, Naismith played at youth level for Rangers and Kilmarnock before signing professional forms with the latter in 2002 and making his first-team debut in April 2004.

It was during the 2005/06 campaign that Naismith really started to make a name for himself, winning the SPL Young Player of the Month twice in August and January, as well as the SPL Player of the Month for March. He was then awarded the Scottish Football Writers’ Young Player of the Year Award at the end of the season.

Naismith bagged his first professional hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Falkirk in the Scottish League Cup semifinal during the 2006/07 season, at the end of which he was named Scottish Young Player of the Year.

His impressive form earned him a first call-up to the national team and he made his international debut as a substitute in a 2-0 win over the Faroe Islands.

After four years at Rugby Park, Naismith secured a dream move to Rangers in August 2007 for a reported GBP1.9 million. That saw him enjoy his first taste of European football as he made his Champions League debut as a substitute against Barcelona at the Nou Camp in a 2-0 loss.

The 2008/09 season ended with Naismith getting his hands on his first piece of silverware as Rangers won the SPL in what was to be the first of three successive titles.

Naismith spent five years at Ibrox, making 119 appearances and scoring 32 goals, while in October 2010 he made a further name for himself by grabbing his first international goal in a EURO 2012 qualifier against World champions Spain.

He could not have been more popular with the Rangers fans until the club’s financial problems came to a head in the summer of 2012 when it was liquidated.

Faced with having his contract transferred to a new company and dropping down to the fourth tier of Scottish football with an uncertain future, Naismith put his family and career first and took the option to become a free agent.

He was quickly snapped up by fellow Scot David Moyes at Everton, who also signed his Rangers strike partner Nikica Jelavic, and Naismith made a flying start by making his debut in a 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Goodison Park.

Naismith endeared himself to the Everton faithful by opening his goal account for the club in a 2-2 draw in the Merseyside derby against Liverpool, while he notably scored the last goal of Moyes’ reign before he left to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at United.

Roberto Martinez took over as manager at the start of the 2013/14 season and utilised Naismith in a more central role, where he has flourished in his preferred position.

Whether he will ever be forgiven by Rangers supporters remains to be seen but Naismith’s talent undoubtedly belongs to a bigger stage than his boyhood club currently enjoy.

The circumstances in which he felt he had no option but to leave Rangers as a free agent, prompted him to say that it was “the hardest decision of my career”.

Naismith married Moya in 2013 and the two have a daughter called Lacey.

© PA Sport