Kyle Lafferty is relishing the prospect of being the focal point of Hearts’ attack in the upcoming season after ending a protracted few days of negotiations by signing a two-year deal with the Tynecastle club.
The 29-year-old Northern Ireland striker has been handed the No.9 jersey after a successful conclusion to talks which had been ongoing since last week. Hibs were also keen on Lafferty – a free agent after an underwhelming three-year stint at Norwich City – but Hearts appeared to be in pole position from the moment the player was spotted visiting Tynecastle last Friday.
Austin MacPhee, the Hearts assistant who is also part of the Northern Ireland coaching staff, played a key role in persuading the former Rangers striker that a move to Gorgie represented the best opportunity for him as he strives to rediscover consistency at club level and keep himself in contention for potential involvement with his national team at next summer’s World Cup.
“I just wanted to come to somewhere where I can play football,” he told Hearts’ website. “I’ve got an important year ahead of me. I’m hoping to make the World Cup with Northern Ireland, so it’s an important year and I’ve been told I’ll be a main focal point of the team, which over the past two or three years I’ve thrived on and I’ve produced the goods.”
Since leaving Rangers five years ago, Lafferty’s form at international level has been in stark contrast to his club form. He is Northern Ireland’s second-highest scorer of all time, with 20 goals, while, in a remarkable anomaly, 11 of his 19 goals in the last three years have come on the international stage. Hearts management clearly believe they can get the striker to replicate his Northern Ireland form at club level, and Lafferty is confident MacPhee and head coach Ian Cathro can get the best out of him in Gorgie.
“Having Austin nibbling my ear for the last four to six months played a massive part in me coming here,” he said. “Knowing how passionate the fans are about their club and their football, it’s important that I was coming to a place where I know I’d get along with the supporters.
“Having spoken to Ian, the way he wants the team to play football and the way I play my football, I’m sure that we’ll click.”
Lafferty first moved to Scotland in 2008 when he joined Rangers from Burnley. He scored 31 goals in four years at Ibrox before leaving for Swiss side Sion in 2012. A fruitful season in Italy followed, where he scored 11 goals to help Palermo win promotion from Serie B, and this helped him earn a seven-figure move back to Britain with Norwich in the summer of 2014. Lafferty’s three years with the Canaries didn’t go to plan – with loan spells at Birmingham City and Turkish side Rizespor – but he has been able to keep his stock level high with a string of influential performances for his country and a starring role in their surge to the last 16 of the European Championships last summer.
The striker is Hearts’ fourth summer signing after the arrivals of Christophe Berra, Rafal Grzelak and Cole Stockton.