Jefferies relishes a feast of Steven

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The Independent Online

That Jim Jefferies is a sound judge of character is beyond debate. Two generations of footballers who owe a debt of gratitude to the Kilmarnock manager will come into direct conflict today when Rangers visit Rugby Park.

David Weir would never have made it as far as the English Premiership, never mind the Scotland team, if Jefferies had not entered his life. The 36-year-old defender, who moved from Everton to Ibrox last month, will be introduced to the latest protégé who makes Jefferies' eyes light up when he encounters Steven Naismith in an intriguing Scottish Premier meeting.

The 20-year-old could soon become an international colleague of Weir if Alex McLeish calls the Kilmarnock striker up for next month's Euro 2008 qualifying games with Georgia and Italy. The new Scotland manager has told Jefferies that he wants to draft in the youngster, who has already registered on Arsène Wenger's radar.

Jefferies took Naismith to London last August to meet the Arsenal manager but pers-uaded both parties it would be best to leave the Scotland Under-21 cap at Rugby Park to develop. That has paid off in style. Naismith's hat-trick last week earned Kilmarnock a place in the Scottish League Cup final against Hibernian, and Jefferies admitted after the semi-final triumph over Falkirk that it would take £5 million to make him part with Naismith. But the Kilmarnock manager was not brave enough to test the water with the transfer window about to close. "I told the club to switch off the faxes so we could not get an offer," he smiled.

Naismith was voted Young Player of the Year last season by the Scottish PFA and he underlined his talent to Rangers when they came to Rugby Park in the first few weeks of the season, scoring the stoppage-time penalty that gave Kilmarnock their first point against the Glasgow club at home since 1994.

"We were heading down to London to take Steven to Ars-enal, so that heaped even more pressure on the kid," Jefferies said. "However, he handles everything in the same cool way."

That could just as easily be a testimony for Weir. Jefferies spotted the defender in 1992 while manager of Falkirk after Weir came back to his home town from college in the United States. Jefferies took Weir to Hearts and the pair won the Scottish Cup together in 1998 before Walter Smith, then at Everton, lured Weir to Goodison. "David still calls me gaffer, which is great," Jefferies said. "He had everything. He is one of the best at reading the game."

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