BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HEARTS star Steven Naismith insists Kyle Lafferty is returning to Rangers as a more ‘mature’ player than the one who departed six years ago – but remains a ‘natural goalscorer’ akin to Kris Boyd.
The Gers finally got their man yesterday [Wednesday] following a protracted transfer saga, with the two clubs agreeing a six-figure fee for the Northern Irishman before Lafferty penned a two-year contract to embark on a second spell with his boyhood heroes.
Naismith was a teammate of the 30-year-old during his maiden stint in Govan, during which Lafferty claimed six major honours, and has played alongside him at Norwich and Hearts.
So few are better placed to analyse the impact the rangy forward could make at Rangers – and he agrees with Light Blues’ boss Steven Gerrard than the swoop represents a risk-free investment.
“He is a different player from first-time around [at Rangers],” said Naismith. “In his first spell he was behind Boydy [Kris Boyd], Kenny Miller and [Nikica] Jelavic, so his opportunities were limited more than they will be now – and he has matured. He is 10 years older.
“I’ve seen him change and mature over the years, but his natural instinct of scoring goals is his biggest asset and you can’t teach that. You look at Boydy last season – he’s a goalscorer – and Laff is the same.
“It is definitely less of a gamble than potentially going to get a loan player or someone from abroad, who could be a hit or a miss.”
While sad to see Lafferty, who bagged 19 goals for the Jambos last term, depart Tynecastle, Naismith was far from downbeat.
He is adamant the impact of Steven MacLean and Uche Ikpeazu have underlined a strength in depth in attack and, albeit he netted the winner against Celtic earlier this month, Hearts’ bright start to the season has largely been achieved with minimal input from Lafferty.
And Naismith has no doubt that boss Craig Levein has plenty of ‘irons in the fire’.
“I’m sad for him to go but, if you look at the start of our season, we have done very well and Laff has played a bit-part,” added Naismith. “He scored a goal against Celtic but in every other game, he has been a sub.
“We have competition in attack and he wouldn’t have got it all his own way this season.
“The manager was already looking to strengthen in that area and the manager has been around enough to know the situation with Laff could drag on and that he might move on so I’m sure he has a few irons in the fire.”
Indeed, Naismith, appearing on last night’s BBC Sportsound programme, acknowledges that the outcome will ultimately satisfy all parties.
“I’m sorry to see him go, it’s a lot of goals to replace,” he added. “But I think everyone walks away happy from the deal. I know that [Hearts owner] Ann [Budge] is a shrewd businesswoman and will have got a very good deal for Hearts.
“On the flipside, you are selling someone with a year left on their contract, so their natural value decreases – Rangers are probably paying less than if he was on a longer contract. Kyle [Lafferty] is getting what he wants too.”
Meanwhile, Naismith has broken his silence on his furious outburst aimed at prone Celtic winger Jonny Hayes during Hearts’ recent 1-0 triumph over the Hoops.
The Scotland international reacted angrily following a clumsy tackle by Hayes, reacting with a tirade as the player lay on the turf having injured himself making the challenge.
“I had the red mist. It was a tackle that came in from behind that was pretty similar to when I had my first knee injury,” he added. “That’s what was going through my head and I was totally wrong in my reaction.
“It was heat of the moment and I regretted it afterwards. Even afterwards, during the game, I was saying to Jonny ‘sorry, are you alright?’ I didn’t realise he was that injured at the time. It was just a reaction to getting scythed down.”