Steven Naismith wants big European nights to be ‘the norm’ again for Rangers
Steven Naismith would like Champions League football to become the “norm” again at Rangers as the Ibrox club prepare for their first tilt at the competition in a decade.
The former Scotland attacker played for the Gers between 2007 and 2012, when the Light Blues featured in European football’s elite club competition three times in four years.
Naismith was in the Rangers side which played in the club’s last Champions League qualifier in 2011-12, losing 2-1 to Malmo on aggregate.
The Govan club subsequently descended into well-documented financial meltdown, re-emerging in the bottom tier of Scottish football before climbing back to the top flight.
After wresting the Premiership title back from Celtic for the first time in a decade last season, Steven Gerrard’s side face a qualifier and a play-off to get into the 2021-22 Champions League.
Hearts’ new player development manager Naismith, speaking as a McDonald’s Fun Football ambassador, told the PA news agency: “Everything that could have been said has been said about the last 10 years. It has been some of the hardest times for Rangers as a club.
“For the four or five seasons before the club last played in the Champions League qualifiers, we constantly competed in Europe, getting to a UEFA Cup final, getting to the Champions League and having some memorable nights along the way.
“It was the norm back for us back then. It has been a long time coming. So hopefully this is going back to being the norm.
“I think both the Old Firm clubs thrive in the Champions League.
“You see the number of teams and players who come and play in Glasgow and give a glowing reference to how good the stadium is and how good the fans are and we need more of that in Scottish football.”
Naismith left Rangers for Everton in 2012 and played for Norwich before returning to Hearts, initially on loan, in 2018 before retiring this summer to take up his new role at Tynecastle.
The 34-year-old believes the prospect of Champions League football with Rangers – who announced a friendly with Brighton at Ibrox on July 24 – is a huge draw for players already at the club and potential new signings.
“The majority of those guys who won the league, potentially they could have interest in them but a massive draw for them to stay is to play in the Champions League,” said Naismith.
“There is not a bigger club competition. When I moved down south it was one of the big questions a lot of players would ask – ‘what’s it like to play in the Champions League?’ There are players desperate to do that.
“Rangers are in a very good position. They have pulled back Celtic and things are looking good but you can’t rest on that success from last season.
“One thing about the Old Firm, you have to be ahead of the game.”
Naismith believes Scotland reaching this summer’s European Championships after a 23-year absence from major tournaments will boost the interest of the thousands of youngsters who will sign up for the “massively important” McDonald’s free Fun Football sessions this summer.
He said: “The amazing feeling when we qualified against Serbia would have been felt by the kids. They have now seen it all unfold and it has been amazing to watch.
“There are things we could have potentially done better or gone our way at the tournament but getting there was the biggest thing for us and hopefully these kids now grow up with a good interest in football.”
::Steven Naismith is calling on families to sign up for McDonald’s free Fun Football sessions, which will get thousands of children playing football this summer. To find a local session go to: mcdonalds.co.uk/football