Hearts manager Craig Levein insists opposition fans will be wasting their time abusing striker Kyle Lafferty over his gambling addiction.
Levein is confident the Northern Irishman has the strength to cope with any taunting.
Lafferty admitted his addiction earlier this week ahead of Hearts’ Premiership match with Dundee at Dens Park tomorrow. He is now receiving help and has consulted former Celtic striker John Hartson, himself a reformed gambler.
Levein backed the 30-year-old to handle any public criticism or chants from opposition supporters whilst striving to deal with the problem.
“He has had plenty stick in his career and it just washes over him,” said the manager.
“I think you might be surprised this time. I think many people might sympathise. It is not so much a club thing.
“I can guarantee every supporter will know somebody who has the same sort of problems. There will be an empathy there if you have a friend or relation who is an alcoholic, a drug addict or a gambling addict.
“They will know the hurt and misery it can cause.
“I have no doubt there will be some who choose to direct some choice words in Kyle’s direction, but you might be surprised.”
Hearts must wait to assess Lafferty’s condition after an illness this week, but speaking about the addiction publicly could help his mental approach.
“He’s got a little sickness bug. He is a bit better but he won’t be in till today just in case it’s something that he can pass on. It might be food poisoning,” explained Levein.
“I can only assume that he will be relieved. You wouldn’t know there was anything wrong, but there must have been something in his head that brought his mood right back down to a pretty low level. I’m sure there will be a weight off his shoulders. There must be.
“You wouldn’t know about the addiction because he comes into the dressing-room every morning with a big smile on his face. He’s the life and soul of the party all the time. He also works hard on the training ground, he’s a big colourful character.
“He has managed to hide problems which have obviously been very serious. He has managed to compartmentalise, if that’s the right word, and put it away for the period when he’s on the training ground or on the pitch.
“If there had been something wrong with his training or in games, you would have said: ‘Right, what’s wrong with you big man?’ But, because he’s so effusive every day, you wouldn’t think there was a problem.”
Lafferty initially confided in Levein’s assistant, Austin MacPhee, which led to meetings with the Hearts hierarchy to find him the necessary help. “It’s an issue in society, that people don’t talk about their problems, isn’t it? He’s been very brave to get to the point where he needs to speak to somebody,” said Levein.
“He has a good relationship with Austin, so he spoke to him. Austin spoke to myself and Ann. We then spoke to Kyle and his wife and it’s been ongoing for three or four weeks.
“Kyle then spoke to John Hartson on Monday about whether to go public with it or not. Speaking to John just finally gave him that push, I think. So that’s step one done. Go public, let people know, admit to the problem.
“After that, it’s a long road and it will never be something he’s cured of, as such, but this will be something he can conquer.”
Levein stressed that Hearts will do everything to help Lafferty for as long as it takes. “When you have Ann Budge running the company, her morals and values are pretty pure. The club were only ever going to do one thing and that was support Kyle.”