Kyle Lafferty: Can 'high maintenance' striker deal with Rangers reality after dream move?

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland

Before Kyle Lafferty made his return to Ibrox as part of Steven Gerrard's impressive new regime, he contacted some key people at Hearts to thank them for what they had done for him.

He said he would never forget the support they showed him when revitalising his career over the past year and, almost more so, when helping him to deal with the gambling addiction that threatened to destroy him.

On 11 September, Lafferty will mark a significant anniversary in his life. It's not a specific goal or a memorable victory, or at least not a victory on the field of play. It will be precisely a year since he had his last bet.

That's 12 months without adding to the many fortunes he had already wasted in the gambling world. That's 12 months of relative stability in his often-times chaotic existence; 12 months that have brought 20 goals for Hearts - four in four games against Celtic - and now a move to Rangers. The kind of transfer that will not only help replenish his battered bank account but that will also return him to his spiritual home.

'This had the potential to get messy'

This was a transfer saga that was torturous at various points. Rangers made a bid of £200,000 and Hearts swatted it away, but there was rancour behind the scenes. As soon as the initial offer landed, Lafferty wanted to move. This was an opportunity that didn't just turn his head. It made his head swivel madly on his shoulders.

At his first training session after that, nobody would have mistaken the big striker for a driven pro. This had all the potential to get messy. A powerful relationship between the player and the club - one strengthened by the adversity in his own life - was in danger of unravelling in the most unfortunate way.

But it didn't. Craig Levein sat Lafferty down and told him that the valuation was disrespectful to him and to Hearts. He 'urged' Lafferty to go out against Celtic in Hearts' second game of the league season and show his Ibrox suitors that he was more than a £200,000 player.

Lafferty took his manager's words on board. He took on board, too, the advice of his assistant, Austin MacPhee, and the club's owner, Ann Budge, all of whom had bent over backwards to help him when he was at his lowest ebb.

He knuckled down, got his focus back and scored the winner against Celtic, his fourth consecutive goal against the champions. After that, it was inevitable that Rangers would come again - and they did. The deal was eventually done. Everybody got what they wanted in the end. Everybody ended up happy.

'He's daft, but he's not a bad lad'

Lafferty was good for Hearts - they signed him for free, got plenty of goals out of him and plenty of money for him in the space of a year - and Hearts were good for the striker in ways that would take a long time to document.

People at Tynecastle won't know what to do with all the extra hours they're going to have in their day that were previously spent on Lafferty, but life moves on. As one Hearts voice put it: "Big Kyle was high-maintenance at times, but he's a very hard boy not to like. He's daft as anything, but he's not a bad lad."

The one-man drama moves to Ibrox for a new act. Lafferty won't have the special status at Rangers he had at Tynecastle, but that's something he's going to have to deal with.

At Hearts, he was the chief goalscorer, the one who carried the burden. At Rangers, that job belongs to Alfredo Morelos and, given the excellent form he is in, he doesn't look like giving up the gig any time soon.

Kyle Lafferty graphic
Lafferty scored 38 goals during his four seasons at Rangers

Lafferty, of course, gives Gerrard an altogether different option up front. He got 12 goals in the league last season, including winners against Hamilton, St Johnstone and Motherwell, as well as the hugely important second goal against Celtic in the 4-0 drubbing at Tynecastle.

He was terrific that day and terrific again when getting the only goal in the 1-0 win against Brendan Rodgers' side a few weeks back. Gerrard could use an asset like that. He looks to have made major improvements in most areas of his team, but up front Rangers could do with more.

People at Hearts say that whenever Celtic were in his sights, Lafferty seemed to up his intensity. It wasn't just talk either. Four goals in four games against the champions is quite a return.

He will play regularly - considering his recent record you'd almost fancy him to start against Celtic on Sunday week - but it's hard to see him as a go-to guy from the start, and that raises questions that he's going to have to find answers to.

Is he still going to be productive when he's not the main man? Does he have the maturity to deal with the status of a squad player as opposed to the totem of the team?

There's no doubt that Lafferty has returned to the club of his dreams. His ability to deal with his new reality will determine how dream-like the return turns out to be.

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