Planning for Kyle Lafferty’s Hearts exit took place months in advance. Not because the Edinburgh club expected their principal striker to leave, but they knew it was a realistic possibility.
Hence the summer signings of Uche Ikpeazu and Steven MacLean, Steven Naismith’s loan return and David Vanecek’s pre-contract deal. Teenage goalscorer Aidan Keena should also be factored into the future without Lafferty.
The Northern Irishman’s transfer to Rangers finally went through yesterday after weeks of negotiating between the two clubs. He joined Hearts for free last summer and leaves for an undisclosed six-figure fee after scoring 19 times last season as the most prolific forward at Tynecastle Park since John Robertson.
Turning 31 next month, Lafferty wanted another shot at Rangers having played for four years at Ibrox until the club were liquidated in 2012. He rightly did not agitate for a move after Hearts’ help with his gambling addiction, saying only that he would “leave it to the two clubs to decide”.
That decision now made, Hearts seem well facilitated to move on without such a talismanic figure. They sit top of the Ladbrokes Premiership after two games and are in the Betfred Cup quarter-finals. Ikpeazu and MacLean already have the signs of a burgeoning parternship in attack, with Naismith in a deeper role. Keena is only 19 and remains on the periphery but looks capable of scoring every time he is on the pitch.
Then there is Vanecek. At 6ft 4ins tall, the Czech is the most obvious replacement for Lafferty once he arrives from FK Teplice. His physique, attitude and playing style are more synonymous with another striker who was revered in maroon, though.
“If you remember Roman Bednar, they are very similar.” The words of Vanecek’s representative, David Zika, echo all the way from the Czech Republic to Scotland. He spoke to the Evening News to give an insight into what Hearts fans can expect from the imposing 27-year-old who has scored four goals in five games for Teplice so far this season.
“Vanecek is a very tall guy, strong physically and he has a good feeling for scoring goals. He is very strong in the penalty box, holding the ball and winning headers, but he is also good with his feet. The comparison with Bednar is a good one, in my opinion.
“Here in the Czech Republic, Hearts are quite a popular club. Since Rudi Skacel, Bednar and Michal Pospisil played there, Hearts are very well known in our country. We are very happy that David will continue this Czech heritage in the club.
“I hope he is popular like the other three Czech players. He is a good character, he is a quiet guy and he never has any scandals or problems off the field. He is already working on his English so I hope it will be a good connection.”
Hearts want Vanecek in situ before the transfer window closes at the end of the month, and he is eager to begin the next chapter of his career in Edinburgh. Teplice are willing to let him leave for a price but not before they recruit an able replacement. Therein lies the difficulty for all concerned, with time running out in this window.
Worst-case scenario, he would join Hearts in January after his Teplice deal expires, as per the pre-contract agreement.
“It is not easy for him psychologically. He is very happy that he signed for Hearts and he is looking forward to moving,” continued Zika.
“He already received some information from another Czech player in the Hearts squad – Zdenek Zlamal, the goalkeeper.
“Zlamal told him about the great win against Celtic, about the great atmosphere in the ground and the passion from the fans. So Vanecek is really wishing to join Hearts as soon as possible. We do understand the position of Teplice as well – they need Vanecek’s goals on the pitch.
“We are trying to be constructive and help them find a striker. Unfortunately, they were interested in a few players here in the Czech league but they didn’t find an agreement with the clubs. We still have a few days.”
So, with Ikpeazu, MacLean, Naismith and Keena in place and Vanecek to come, Hearts are equipped to proceed without Lafferty. He started only one of their last four games – against Celtic – and scored the winner to affirm his value.
That said, the 5-0 win against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, the 4-1 success at Hamilton Academical and the 1-0 victory at Dunfermline Athletic were all achieved using Lafferty as a bit-part player off the substitutes’ bench.
Perhaps it was a sign that Hearts were already thinking about life without him as Rangers’ interest grew.
The secret to success is in the preparation, as they say, and the Tynecastle management arranged many months ago that their attacking reinforcements would be in place in the event of Lafferty’s departure.
It is always wise to plan ahead.