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STEVEN NAISMITH says he can’t get enough of playing for Everton – and insists the Blues winning mentality makes them feel invincible.
The Scotland forward has hit the ground running since his summer switch from Rangers, and has been delighted with Everton’s strong start to the season – insisting their defeat by West Brom last weekend was a blip.
Naismith, 25, missed most of last season through injury and reckons the enforced lay-off has given him a new thirst for action with club and country.
He said: “The whole way through most of pre-season, I’ve enjoyed it more than most footballers enjoy pre-season just for the fact I had been out.
“Now that I’m back involved in games, the games can’t come quick enough. I think that was something the manager made a conscious point of stating to the players, that he wanted us to start well.
“We showed, especially in the Manchester United game, we were willing to fight and got our just rewards with a good 1-0 win and we pushed on from there in the cup game and against Aston Villa [won 3-1], although obviously last weekend wasn’t a great result to finish it off.
“The squad believe we can go into every game and compete and win. You want to finish as high as you can, that goes without saying, but it’s too early to say where you’re going to finish
“The teams you come up against every week, it shows there is real quality in every team. Every game’s a tough game and you’ve got to be at your best to get results.”
Naismith, who has joined the Scotland squad ahead of Saturday’s World Cup Group A qualifying opener against Serbia, said it was similarly tough to win a starting place in Craig Levein’s upwardly mobile side.
“That’s one thing that’s noticeable – the competition for places is really, really strong and that can only be good,” he added.
Scotland welcome Serbia to Hampden Park tomorrow, before Macedonia also visit Glasgow on Tuesday.
Naismith added: “Nobody can deny there has been a lot of progress made from where the squad was before he took over.
“We’ve all now had experience in qualifiers. It’s not as if it is a new squad coming together.
“We’ve been together for a while now, which goes a long way.
“Now we need to turn that into performances on the park at the qualifying stage, not doing it just in friendlies.
“We need to show we are capable and that what the manager has been working towards is now paying off.”
FORMER Blues boss Joe Royle believes Everton should not rule out finishing in the Premier League’s top four if they can avoid major injuries this season.
Royle, who was the last Toffees manager to lift a trophy when his side won the FA Cup in 1995, has been thoroughly impressed with David Moyes’ transfer dealings in the summer, and insists Everton are primed to capitalise on a period of stability.
And the former Goodison striker thinks his beloved Blues are capable of repeating their achievement of finishing fourth in 2005, especially with other contenders going through transitional phases.
He said: “Everton are looking strong. They are certainly a solid bet for the top six and if they can get their best team out every week and find some rhythm and continuity then you can’t rule out the top four.
“The Manchester clubs have had funny starts and are conceding goals while Arsenal and Tottenham have made changes and don't look overly convincing.
“I think there is an awful lot to be optimistic about for Everton.”
Royle believes Moyes might have made his second FA Cup final last term if he had been able to include the then on-loan Steven Pienaar in his line-up for the 2-1 defeat by Liverpool at Wembley.
“Pienaar just brings everyone on with him,” he says. “He has always been terrific with Baines but I have never seen Fellaini in better form and both Osman and Gibson are thriving too.
“A lot of that is down to Pienaar’s influence.
“It was so clear last season when we were missing him at Wembley in a game where neither side really performed, yet a week or so later we were terrific against a very good Manchester United side at Old Trafford with Pienaar at the heart of it.”
But Royle has also been impressed by another January arrival in the form of £500,000 Old Trafford recruit Darron Gibson.
Speaking in this month’s edition of the Evertonian magazine (far right), he said: “Darron came along and offered Everton something a bit different.
“He is always looking for the ball and always wants the ball – he is that important continuity player that a team needs.
“Plus the thing with Gibson is you get the impression there is much more to come from him.
“He can score goals and I think we’ll see more from him in the future as well.”
Nikica Jelavic was arguably the main arrival in the previous transfer window and Royle is quick to acknowledge his impact – although he thinks the summer has further consolidated an already vibrant dressing room.
“In Jelavic they got someone with great movement and mobility,” he added.
“But more than that he is someone who wants to score goals and he is a great finisher. That was so important because before you would see games Everton were on top in but they lacked that cutting edge that a goalscorer provides.
“Jelavic has been that man - his goals are a major, major plus for them.
“I honestly don’t know about the new lads yet, but they come with pedigree and will give the manager options.
“Naismith has come in and started well after impressing in Scotland and is fitting in with the way Everton do things.
“New players need a little time but if you look at the squad now, it has a good look about it. They look as strong as they have done for a while.”
The Premier League is considering the introduction of rules to control escalating player wages before the huge influx of cash from the next television deals in 2013-16. Potential rules presented to the clubs by the chief executive, Richard Scudamore, at a meeting in London on Thursday include a salary cap or a form of Uefa's financial fair play rules.
Some clubs feel strongly that the new TV deal, with £3bn already secured from the UK rights, should not be swallowed up by a new wave of pay inflation. But any rule change requires 14 of the 20 Premier League clubs to agree and it is not clear whether sufficient clubs will be in favour of strengthening financial regulations.
Manchester United and Arsenal, both of whom made profits in 2010-11, are understood to favour rules similar to Uefa's, which require clubs to move towards breaking even financially, not making losses. On Thursday Arsène Wenger supported that view, the Arsenal manager saying: "You should just get the resources you generate, that will determine the real size of the club."
However, some clubs see that as a move by the two with the greatest income to outspend everyone else. Manchester City, whose path to becoming Premier League champions has been achieved by the club's Abu Dhabi owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, subsidising huge losses, are thought unlikely to support new regulations, even though they have consistently said they are aiming to break even. City argue that a level of investment by an owner to bankroll losses is necessary to lift a club to success on the field and commercially.
Other clubs, including Fulham, Everton, West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle and Tottenham Hotspur, are also understood to question whether clubs need new regulations, rather than being trusted to manage their own affairs.
Despite income rising every year, pay to players has risen steadily over the past decade. In 2001-02, clubs spent £1.1bn, 62% of their income, on players' wages. In 2010-11, the most recent year for which financial figures are available, income grew to £2.5bn but players' wages amounted to £1.8bn, 70% of the clubs' turnover. Despite massive commercial growth and the Premier League's growing popularity abroad, only eight of the 20 clubs made a profit in 2010-11.
West Ham United's chairman, David Gold, is vocally in favour of introducing rules to limit wages to help clubs make a profit, as is Dave Whelan, the Wigan Athletic owner. Peter Coates, the Stoke City owner, said all clubs would be helped by having to conform to agreed rules.
"I hope this view is widely shared: we cannot have all the new money going in inflated wages and payments to agents," Coates said. "There is no need to do that; we will have the same players, they won't get better because we pay them more. It should not be beyond us to find a formula which works for us all."
Ellis Short, the owner and chairman of Sunderland, who lost £8m last year having spent 77% of the club's income in wages, is understood to favour restricting salary increases to 10% in each of the new TV deal's three years.
The clubs have agreed to work on the proposals in two separate groups of 10, then for all 20 to meet to consider the issue in detail at the end of September. The Premier League did not want to comment in detail until further work has been done; a spokesman confirmed: "There is a process under way to examine potential further financial regulation."