Kyle Lafferty ‘will be loved at Hearts like he was at Palermo’

Lafferty and Paulo Dybala were team-mates at Palermo
Lafferty and Paulo Dybala were team-mates at Palermo
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Kyle Lafferty has been backed to ignite the Tynecastle crowd with his passion, aggression and relentless workrate by a man who saw him capture the hearts of a highly-charged Italian support.

The talismanic Northern Ireland striker, who last week signed a two-year deal with Hearts, last enjoyed a sense of harmony at club level when he scored 11 goals to help Palermo to a famous Serie B title triumph in the 2013/14 campaign.

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 28:  Kyle Lafferty (R) of Northern Ireland and Struna Aljaz (L) of Slovenia in action during the international friendly between Northern Ireland and Slovenia at Windsor Park on March 28, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.   (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 28: Kyle Lafferty (R) of Northern Ireland and Struna Aljaz (L) of Slovenia in action during the international friendly between Northern Ireland and Slovenia at Windsor Park on March 28, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Among Lafferty’s former team-mates with the Sicilian club was Aljaz Struna, and the Slovenian internationalist – the brother of recently-departed Hearts right-back Andraz – is adamant that his old colleague has the type of selfless, never-say-die attitude that will allow him to flourish at Tynecastle.

“I liked Kyle a lot,” Struna told the Evening News. “When he is in form, he is a very good striker. He is a very aggressive attacker who always gives 100 per cent, not just in games but also in training. I’m a defender so when we were training, I was playing against him. He is very hard to mark because he is always running.

“He is not a striker who takes a position and stays there. If I am a defender playing against an attacker who is not running so much, it is so much easier. But Kyle plays in attack like he is a defender – he is so aggressive. He is also very good with his head, which is important for playing in Scottish football.”

Lafferty is still idolised by the Palermo support for his form among a batch of attackers who would swiftly come to wider prominence on the global stage. In his solitary season in Italy, he outscored a couple of present-day stars in the shape of Paulo Dybala and Andrea Bellotti – albeit both were in the fledgling stage of their careers at that point.

“That season, in attack we had Dybala, who is now at Juventus and one of the top players in the world; Franco Vazquez, a quality striker who is now at Sevilla; Abel Hernandez, who is at Hull City; then Kyle Lafferty and Andrea Bellotti, who is at Torino and has an asking price of about £100 million,” said Struna, pictured below, who is set to depart Palermo this summer. “We had five of the best strikers in Italy that year – they were all Serie A strikers, not Serie B. Kyle did very well in Italy. All of Palermo loved him because he always gave 120 per cent. The people in Italy loved that about him. I think it will be the same for him in Edinburgh. I think Hearts have done a very good deal.”

Upon selling Lafferty to Norwich City three years ago, Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini described him as “an out-of-control womaniser – an Irishman without rules”. Struna dismisses any notion that the effervescent striker was a problematic presence in the dressing-room. “I know Kyle very well because we had a good connection,” he said. “We were good friends. I don’t know where the stories about him come from – as a friend and a team-mate he is very good. He is a very, very positive person. He is always laughing. I didn’t ever see him sad. Even if he was on the bench, he would never get upset. He was always motivated to give 100 per cent.”

Lafferty is as highly-regarded in his homeland as he was during his time at Palermo. Struna found this out for himself when part of the Slovenia team that visited Belfast for a pre-Euro 2016 friendly 15 months ago.

“When we were playing against Northern Ireland, when we came to the stadium I saw a lot of pictures of him,” he said. “I didn’t know the people of Northern Ireland loved him so much but he is their second-best scorer [of all time]. He was on the bench that night and so was I but when he came on, all the people were up screaming his name. People love him because he gives a passion to the game when he is on the pitch – they love him because he is aggressive. He plays with his heart on his sleeve.

“If he plays regularly 
and the coach trusts him, 
I believe 100 per cent that Hearts will get the best out of him. When he is on the pitch, the people will love him.”