Norwich and Steven Naismith: Smart, diverse, useful

Maybe this an outdated opinion, but Steven Naismith might just be one of the most under-appreciated players in the Premier League. His physical abilities are probably a six or a seven out of ten, but he plays the game with an awful lot of intelligence and, though he’s already twenty-eight, Norwich are getting excellent value for their £8m.

It’s slightly surprising that Naismith has fallen out of favour at Everton. With the return of Gerard Deulofeu to Goodison Park and Arouna Kone’s recovery from long-term injury, he’s been marginalised by Roberto Martinez, but - from the outside at least - that looks to have been very hasty. Deulofeu and Kone are of obvious value and Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku are clearly evolving as players, too, but Naismith has always offered something slightly different. He’s not comparable to any of those players and it’s a little strange that Everton have been so eager to move him on.

His first-touch can be a little clunky at times and he isn’t blessed with any one outstanding attribute, but he has an admirable command of several attacking positions. He just seems to understand attacking football: he appears in the right places at the right time, he’s aware of the movement around him, and the amount of times he drifts into pertinent positions without taking a marker with him is uncanny.

They’re not comparable on a literal basis, but there’s a Teddy Sheringham-like quality to Naismith in that he’s far more effective than he should reasonably be. Sheringham was a better all-round footballer and was a more diverse forward, but Naismith is a good finisher in his own right and, with all due respect to the players already at the club, he will make Norwich more dangerous in front of goal.

But, again like Sheringham, he contributes outside the box and in the phases which lead to chances. He’s not equipped with an elaborate passing range, but his movement and anticipation are so good that he will inevitably stretch an opposing defence in one way or another and, if you look at the list of teams he’s scored against in the past, that’s not just a threat posed to middle-of-the-road sides or relegation fodder.

This isn’t a exciting signing and Steven Naismith may lack the exotic appeal of a big foreign name, but it’s a very good deal. Not only will he make a personal contribution, but he’s the sort of player who will inevitable coax an improvement from the playmakers operating around and behind him. Norwich typically line-up with Cameron Jerome leading the line and Wes Hoolahan supporting as a number ten, and Naismith can theoretically fill either role and, in so doing, change the way Alex Neil’s side attack.

There’s always room for a player like that and, given what £8m buys in this climate, it’s a very sound transfer.

And, though it isn’t really a sporting virtue, he is a very decent human-being. Naismith has the kind of social conscience that most modern athletes lack and, beyond what he contributes on the field, he’s the kind of footballer of whom fans can be proud. The attention he pays to the homeless and to the less fortunate members of society has been well-covered, but it’s worth repeating: he sets a great example to every professional and he’s the kind of character who supporters will always gravitate towards.

He’s undervalued in a lot of different ways.