Craig Levein fears serious money could force Hearts to sell Kyle Lafferty after he became the most prolific Tynecastle striker since John Robertson.
Manager Levein is desperate to keep the Northern Ireland internationalist to spearhead next season’s attack, but he admitted today that a big transfer bid could derail those plans.
Lafferty scored his 19th goal of the season in Wednesday’s 2-1 win against Hibs. The last forward in maroon to reach that total in one campaign was Robertson in 1996/97.
Lafferty will aim to reach the 20 mark against Kilmarnock on Sunday to become the Hearts player with most goals in a season for more than a quarter of a century. The last person to reach 20 for the club was Robertson in 1991/92.
Teams in Britain and abroad are monitoring Lafferty’s prowess and Levein can only hope Hearts manage to resist any offer for a player whose contract runs until 2019.
“Of course we want to keep him. Our biggest danger is somebody coming in and offering big money for him. I’m desperate for him to stay and still be here at the start of the season,” Levein told the Evening News.
“He is more than just a team-mate on the field. He’s brilliant in the dressing-room so I’m looking forward to working with him next year as well.”
Lafferty’s scoring ratio from 40 club appearances has earned him comparison with Robertson’s statistics. “He’s in good company now, isn’t he?” smiled Levein.
“Kyle doesn’t need four chances to get a goal. He just scores. His goal against Hibs was about pure tenacity. I thought he’d lost the ball on two occasions and then he’s managed to get it back.
“It was a really difficult finish but he has that calmness and composure in front of goal that all good strikers have got.”
After the match, Lafferty said he still hoped to be a Hearts player next season after finally scoring his first derby goal. “I don’t think I’ve turned up myself in these games. I know how much it means to the club and to the fans,” he stressed.
“I haven’t been happy with my performances in the derbies so far, but tonight it’s the last home game – I’m hoping it’s not going to be my last derby for Hearts.”
Levein is working on trying to bring loanees David Milinkovic, Steven Naismith, Joaquim Adao and Demetri Mitchell back to Edinburgh for next season.
He stressed his fondness for French winger Milinkovic, who is contracted to Genoa.
“He provides energy. Sometimes it’s just energy, nothing else, but it has an impact on the match. I really like him. I love him to bits, actually, but his retention of information at times is something else.
“I’m still working on him. I’m working on all of them. No clubs are interested in doing anything just now, and that’s what happens. I’m going to have to wait to try and get these things organised.
“For now, I can just work on bringing other players in that I think we need anyway, and then we’ll see what happens further down the line.”
Levein added that Naismith must talk to parent club Norwich City before Hearts can make any move. “It’s not really our issue. He has to sort stuff out with Norwich before we can do anything.
“He wants to stay and I want him to stay. I think Norwich want him to go so there might be something in there that can be done. It just depends how he gets on with the situation. I’d love him to stay.”