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Hearts boss Robbie Neilson insists that arbitration won’t damage his men’s Scotland prospects

© SNSNew Hearts manager Robbie Neilson
New Hearts manager Robbie Neilson

Robbie Neilson has confirmed that Steven Naismith will be his captain.

And as Hearts’ new manager looked ahead to a campaign that is still up in the air while the club’s relegation from the Premiership heads for arbitration, he insisted playing in the Championship would not harm any of his players’ international prospects.

Neilson said: “I have spoken to Steven a few times. I know him as a player, not personally, but having spoken to him, he is very motivated.

“He is a top, top player, who has been phenomenal for a number of years.

“So while we have still to discuss the issue, at this moment in time he will continue as the captain.

“I don’t think playing in the Championship will stop him being involved with Scotland, and there are a few others in the same situation.

“For example, I would expect Craig Gordon to be around the national team.

“John Souttar is also there, and I would like both Craig Halkett and Aaron Hickey to be around about it, too.”

Neilson was a team-mate of Gordon from 2003-07 – a spell broken by the keeper’s record-breaking £9-million move to Sunderland – and his enthusiasm over the reunion is unmistakable.

“Craig is someone who brings massive experience to the group, having been here as a player before. It’s great for us to have someone who knows the club so well,” he said.

“I have spoken to some of the young ones about that.

“Craig came here as a young player, and played his 100-150 games before getting his big move.

“A lot of young players nowadays want to move quickly.

“But we are hoping his experience, and going on from here to have such a great career with Sunderland, Celtic and Scotland, can encourage the younger players to try to emulate that.

“In the big-pressure games, the big occasions, he has the experience of remaining calm and performing.

“As a persona and a leader, he is going to be great.”

The arbitration tribunal has still to confirm Hearts’ place in the Championship.

But if they do, Neilson believes he will be in better shape for the job than when starting his managerial career in the second tier in 2014.

Then, having laid the foundations by opening with a 20-game unbeaten league run, he led Hearts to the title.

“The aim this time is to go 21!” he said with a laugh.

“Obviously, that is easier said than done. However, am I better placed for the job than I was before? Definitely.

“Six or seven years ago, I had coached at lower levels at East Fife and at junior teams. Now I’m coming back in having had six years’ experience of front-line management.

“I have coached at different clubs in Scotland, and at a high level down in England and managed to bring success to it.

“Although it was a tough decision to leave Dundee United, I have come back to a club and a set-up I know extremely well.

“I know the potential here. That’s what persuaded me to come.”