Craig Levein opens up on Hearts striker Kyle Lafferty’s gambling issue

Hearts manager Craig Levein. Picture: SNS
Hearts manager Craig Levein. Picture: SNS
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Craig Levein admits Hearts did not know the scale of Kyle Lafferty’s gambling problems when they signed him - but insists it would have made no difference to their decision.

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The Northern Ireland striker opened up on his addiction battle earlier this week, confessing he had lost thousands of pounds over the past decade.

Both boss Levein and owner Ann Budge have vowed to help the 30-year-old through his struggles, but believe it is important that the former Rangers man has taken the first step himself.

Having watched Lafferty manage to fire his county to Euro 2016 during the depths of his fight, Levein also hopes talking so openly about the issue could now help him re-discover his best form on the pitch.

Asked if he knew just how bad Lafferty’s problem was before signing him on a free transfer from Norwich this summer, the Gorgie manager said: “No. When we signed him we obviously did background checks.

“Yeah, maybe there were some things [indicating] he liked a bet, but it wasn’t at the forefront of our thoughts when he joined.

“It was only four or five weeks ago that he approached [assistant boss] Austin MacPhee and explained the situation he was in.

“Since then we’ve done everything we can to help him. He needs to help himself, but by going public he’s shown he’s serious about it.

“Would it have put us off signing him had we known beforehand? That’s a tough question, but I don’t think so.

“Looking at it purely from a football point of view, he has had these problems for ages and, credit to him, he even managed to play at the Euros while it was going on, which I just find remarkable.”

Lafferty has thanked the Jambos for their backing and Levein is just relieved his player is facing up to the problem.

“I imagine it would be a weight off his shoulders now,” he said. “He’s a human being. If he’s got these worries in his head it must have an effect.

“He’s quite a jovial character, but even if you don’t see the impact on the surface it must be affecting him inside.

“For his sake we hope he can rid himself of the addiction. But if he can do that and feel good about himself then I’d guess his performances on the park will improve as well.

“It’s a terrible addiction, but we’re all hopeful he can overcome it. He’s certainly approaching things with the right attitude now.”

The relationship between Scottish football and the gambling industry has been the subject of probing questions in recent years following a spate of cases involving players caught betting on football.

While strict new rules now outlaw gambling on football matches anywhere in the world for players and officials, the fact Scotland’s three major domestic competitions are all sponsored by betting firms has sparked criticism.

But Levein reckons it is too simple to point the finger of blame at the companies profiting from gambling.

He said: “It’s a societal problem, but blaming the gambling companies for it is like blaming the drinks companies when people become alcoholics.

“That’s a dangerous road to go down.

“I don’t want to get into the politics of it or speak about sponsors. For us as a club, it was just about making sure Kyle got the support he needs to get better.”

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