"We need a right-back so there is a process in place to find out what options there are, who we think are good and then whittle it down to a point where we can sit and go: ‘Here are our targets. Can we get him? Can we get him? Who is best? What’s number one, two…". That’s the way it works."

Ahead of the January transfer window, Steven Naismith explained the Heart of Midlothian recruitment process. Or, more specifically, his role within that. 

It is far from a secret. The priority this month, in terms of incomings, is a right-back. Nathaniel Atkinson could miss up to six games while he is at the Asian Cup with Australia and Odel Offiah has returned to parent club Brighton & Hove Albion.

Work has taken place behind the scenes on those targets. After the Livingston game on Tuesday, Naismith revealed the club hope to "have more information of the exact target or two that we are looking for" in the "next week or so".

READ MORE: What Hearts fans can expect in the January transfer window: Priority and Shankland

It is just the second time Naismith has experienced the transfer window as a head coach. With that, he is grateful for the structure the club have in place with sporting director Joe Savage and head of recruitment Will Lancefield. There is, however, one aspect of signing a player that Naismith pays extra attention to.

"As a young coach, I have not got loads of experience in recruitment," he told Hearts Standard in an exclusive interview. "A big thing that is positive for the club, there is a department, a structure, there is a process there, tools there to help. It is a group thing.

"I’m not going to sit here and say Joe deals with recruitment or Will is the head of recruitment he’s in charge. No decision at this club is made by one person, it is never done. It’s not a way I’m comfortable working. It’s a group decision to go ‘that’s what we need’. As a player, I’ve seen it, the number of players who come in as one thing and actually aren’t that thing.

"That’s why a massive part for me is character, getting as many references as you can, diving really deep into what they are like around the training facility. You see their attributes on clips and if you go and watch them. You get all that, you get a sense for it. But there is still a risk, there is always a risk. It’s about doing that [finding out about character]."

READ MORE: How recruitment works at Hearts - transfer process, missed targets, scouting markets

Naismith is someone who likes asking questions. When he was a player he asked questions of managers and coaches. It wasn't just about helping him understand what was being asked of him as a player or his role within the team, but also with a view to management in the future. He wanted to pick the brains of Walter Smith and Roberto Martinez, David Moyes and Alex Neil. About workload, about training, about tactics. That has continued as he's made the transition into management. 

His conversations with his former managers or Scotland boss Steve Clarke, who he worked under with the national team, or even Premiership peers have confirmed one thing: Recruitment is perhaps the hardest thing in management to get right.

"With the detail of the tactics and the player's profile, it’s the player’s character and the research we can do on that front," Naismith said. "It’s the data, it’s the package of everything. I would genuinely say it is one of the hardest things to do at a club. Every manager I’ve worked under has said the same thing. One of the hardest things to do. It is one of the biggest things that will give you success or not and it’s one of the riskiest, that’s the three things it is. That’s what it is always going to be. On top of that, players take time."

That difficulty can be viewed through one former Hearts star: Josh Ginnelly. The 26-year-old emerged as a key player for the club as a striker towards the end of a three-year spell at Tynecastle Park. Until moving into a central role to partner Lawrence Shankland, Ginnelly's time in Gorgie was largely inconsistent. However, moving to Swansea City for a significant pay rise at the end of his deal meant Hearts were now required to replace a player whose value had increased substantially.

"At every club, you have your resources and where you can get players from," Naismith said. "We are having to replace a Josh Ginnelly but I feel people forget, what was Josh Ginnelly like for the first two years he was here?

"Josh Ginnelly has gone to the Championship and if a club wanted to buy Josh Ginnelly now, I know he’s injured, you are probably talking one, two, three million quid for him. We’re not talking about replacing Josh Ginnelly with Josh Ginnelly because we need three million quid for it. That’s not happening.

"It happens all the time. As a club, we need to be creative. We need to get players in from the academy and be patient with them. You need to do your research, everyone has got risk but overall it is a group decision, we all look at the players and there is a process to try and identify [them]."

READ MORE: Steven Naismith reflects on Hearts journey and 8 months as head coach

One of those was Kyosuke Tagawa. Not as fast as Ginnelly, the Japanese striker likes to run behind. He is an example of those players who "take time", as Naismith put it, comparing him to fellow summer signing Calem Nieuwenhof. The Australian midfielder took two to three months to settle before playing in the starting XI consistently.

"What you have seen since then is a really good player who is robust, calm on the ball, energetic and who is a value for us," he explained.

"Kyosuke has come in and he’s probably the one who has had it hard. Had a wee injury, taken time to settle, probably not played in a league that is as robust as this but plays in a position that impacts it more than other areas. Give him time to settle.

"On the training pitch he has shown some really good attributes, in moments in games he’s shown some good attributes. Has he shown ideally enough of what everyone wants? No, but he’s going to take time, let that happen and see where it goes."

READ MORE: Hearts tactics: Steven Naismith on formation, pressing, set pieces and deep defences

Naismith breaks recruitment into four categories: Players with potential, squad players who "come in when you need them", first-team regulars who are "going to do it" and "experienced pros who bring more than just football". It is about making sure sure "the balance of your squad is right".

It is a constant process where the squad is evaluated and potential targets identified as to the needs of the team. For example, the team may be thin in experience so that becomes a key target. Or the club recognise they have a promising centre-back. Therefore it's not an area they would priortise but monitor instead.

"I’ll evaluate the squad every six months," he said. "Before every window you are evaluating the squad and that is future-proofing, in a year, two years, contracts end, where we are at, where we are a bit thin, where we are a bit heavy. It's a constant process.

"The recruitment is a library in itself. The squad is constantly developing and moving. All these things float constantly and we have a library in every category where we have got players. That’s where I’ll be ‘we need this, this and this’. I think 'this, this and this might happen so we are vulnerable here, these are the areas we need to look at'. Then our recruitment department will go away and start looking through the library, the recruitment list.

"It will get brought down to a shortlist and that’s where more research goes in from everyone on the football side. If you have spare time you will watch games, see where he’s played, what he’s done. A report goes in, happy not happy, I’ve got concerns here, that’s constantly monitored.

"When we need to act on these positions where’s our shortlist, that’s where we really come in. That’s the process. For the club to have that, that’s a good thing. We just need to make sure we make the right choices."

Going into the window, Naismith is "happy" with his squad.

When it comes to squad building the Hearts boss has a strong view. As a player at the club, he witnessed a churn of players from one season to the next - even one window to the next. He wants to ensure that doesn't happen, implementing more efficiency and continuity.

Key to that is squad size, which he views as currently too big, and a production line from the academy. In an ideal world, and depending on European involvement, the preference would be for a squad of 22 or 23, supplemented by between four and six younger players.

"We have to go away from the constantly changing players," Naismith explained. "At this stage of my coaching career and where I am as a person I think I’ll get the biggest joy, outside of winning, when looking back in 20 years that it's still surviving or I played a part in that. That’s what excites me the most. The short-term couple of results don't excite me, that excites me.

"To be able to do that here, part of that is having a squad that 90 per cent of them stay and carry on that work. That next year ten more per cent might move on but the ones you have bumped up with are carrying it on. It becomes less work, it becomes more efficient, it becomes the case that you are refining small details. I think the squad, on the whole, has loads of potential.

READ MORE: Creating space, finding rhythm, Denholm cameo: How Hearts beat disruptive Livingston

"In some areas we are a wee bit heavier. Centre mid we have a chunk of players that’s probably a little more than other areas. I’m comfortable, you’ll constantly look to improve in that. That’s why I said we need a right-back. If other wee bits need done we are not desperate, but that’s the time to be able to future-proof. It’s the most efficient way of doing it I think.

"For the way I want to work, I think the squad is slightly too big. There was the European run last season, the potential to get Europe this season.

"I think we’ve got some young players here I think we can produce. The balance is giving them the opportunity when they deserve it but having a robust squad so you are not relying on kids who aren’t ready. There’s that fine balance.

"Having the right size of squad you can get the balance without unforeseen injury problems. The Celtic game was an example. Bringing Jorge Grant, who was struggling, off at Celtic Park, Macaulay [Tait] gets on and he gets his opportunity. But I class him as a first-team player. As a young player that’s the opportunity.

"Whereas if we have a really big squad that opportunity is not there for them. It goes back to it needs to be right, they need to deserve it, not just throwing players in and saying ‘we’ve got these young players in the first team’. That’s going to kill them in the long run."