Hearts’ latest signing David Vanecek - who agreed to a pre-contract move in January - is strikingly similar to last season’s top goalscorer, as Craig Fowler writes
Kyle Lafferty has repeatedly stated he is happy at Hearts. He’s credited the club with helping him recover from his gambling addiction, praising the support of his team-mates and assistant manager Austin MacPhee, who Lafferty has a prior relationship with due to their work with the Northern Ireland national team. Edinburgh can’t be a bad place for the player and his wife Vanessa to live, and he’s back playing regularly, getting adulation from the fans and scoring plenty of goals following a frustrating spell in Norwich. Life must be pretty good.
And yet, speculation regarding his future refuses to completely go away. This is despite the fact that no bids, which we know of, have been made for the player since he arrived in Gorgie.
Adding to the concern among the support, who don’t want to see last season’s top goalscorer exit the club any time soon, is the way Hearts have conducted their transfer business this summer. If you count Steven Naismith - though there are indications he could play as a midfielder - Hearts will have four first-team forwards on their books at the start of the season. That will become five if an offer for David Vanecek, signed on a pre-contract earlier this week, is accepted in the coming days. That’s a lot for a team who mostly played last season with only one (and a manager who once, infamously, didn’t play with any at all).
Lafferty only has one year left on his contract. Even 35-year-old Steven MacLean has a two-year deal. If Hearts are given a serious offer, and the No.9 wants to leave, then this happy marriage could end prematurely.
Enter Vanecek. The similarities between the Czech striker and his prospective new team-mate are evident as soon as you lay eyes on him. Even the first goal in this YouTube compilation is quite similar to Lafferty’s belter against Celtic.
The new boy is a lanky presence in attack. Just as Lafferty, he stands at 6ft 4in, and while he’s a little bulkier than the current Hearts frontman, he’s also an angular shape about him. And while neither processes much pace, they both have good mobility for men of their stature.
Despite their height, neither are classic target men. They are strikers who wish to score goals rather than playing the self-less facilitator. Over the course of last season in the Czech and Scottish top flights they produced exactly zero assists between them. It’s very much a case of looking to shoot when the chance is there, though Lafferty did so more regularly than Vanecek with 2.84 shots per game compared with 1.89.
They’re both combative, committing almost the exact same number of fouls per 90 mins, and rank high for aerial battles in their respective leagues. They even get caught offside with roughly the same frequency.
Where the 27-year-old Czech exceeds Lafferty is in the air. They’re fairly similar in terms of winning headers in the open field, but it’s in the penalty box where Vanecek shows his prowess. He had 22 headed attempts last season, good enough for fourth among all attackers in the top flight. Lafferty, meanwhile, only has six all campaign. This could be attributed to the lack of decent crossers at Hearts, with Levein’s men attempting the fewest in the Premiership. But even adjusting for that variable, the ex-Viktoria Plzen man still comes out comfortably on top.
He’s also a more physical player. A pair of Vanecek and Uche Ikpeazu should put the fear of god into opposing centre-backs if they eventually link up. Lafferty has that in him, but it usually takes the bigger matches (mainly Hibs and Celtic) for him to truly embrace that side of the game.
It will sting when it comes time for the ex-Rangers and Palermo star to leave EH11. He’s become a popular figure among a supporters’ base that felt disillusioned with the majority of its first-team prior to his arrival. Having lost fellow favourite David Milinkovic this summer, it will be tough for some to take two losses in one window if Lafferty were to go too.
However, they should be placated by the knowledge that a ready-made replacement will soon be on the way.