Steven Gerrard is ready to pitch Kyle Lafferty straight into Europa League action for Rangers tonight after the striker completed his return to the Ibrox club ahead of the Uefa deadline.
The Northern Ireland international striker has signed a two-year contract at Rangers after a fee in the region of £500,000, which includes add-ons, was agreed with Hearts.
Gerrard is delighted to have secured his 12th signing as Rangers manager following a protracted pursuit of Lafferty, who scored 38 goals in 138 appearances during his first spell at the Ibrox club from 2008 to 2012. An initial bid of £200,000 last month was turned down by Hearts who had valued the player at £750,000.
The 30-year-old, who was Hearts’ top scorer last season with 19 goals, has been backed by his new boss to enjoy a successful second stint in Rangers colours, which could start as early as this evening in the first leg of the Europa League play-off round tie against Russian side Ufa at Ibrox.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, Kyle will be involved in the squad against Ufa,” said Gerrard.
“He gives us another big option in forward areas. I’ve made no secret of how much I rate the player. He’s someone other players don’t like playing against and he knows what this club is all about in terms of success and what it takes to achieve it.
“I know he’s been a bit raw and a bit naive at times in his younger years but so was I, I have no problem with that. I love players who play on the edge but I want them to play on the edge when it’s right and not wrong
“I can sit down face to face with Kyle and tell him what I expect from him on and off the pitch. Then we have an absolutely top centre forward and another big, big part of what I’m trying to do here. We’ve got a happy footballer who is desperate to contribute and, for a manager, that’s brilliant.”
Lafferty had a knack of shining on the big occasions for Rangers during his previous spell, effectively scoring title-clinching goals under Walter Smith’s management for three consecutive years from 2009 to 2011. That is a quality Gerrard wants him to repeat under his guidance.
“If you’re not a big game player, you’ve got no right to be here,” added Gerrard. “If players are not big game players for me they won’t be around for long and won’t even come in the door.
“It was a very important part of my decision (to sign Kyle). I knew I would have to make a lot of changes to my squad in terms of personnel and I knew a lot of them would be younger. So the reason I wanted the likes of Connor Goldson and Allan McGregor was to have an experienced spine who know what winning football matches is all about.
“Kyle ticks those boxes as well. He’s proved that of late but also for many, many years. He’s an international footballer and I predict he’ll be a big player for Rangers. I know how much he wants it.”
Lafferty has had issues off the pitch with a self-confessed gambling problem which saw him fined £23,000 by the English FA two years ago for breaching their rules on footballers placing bets. Gerrard is ready to provide any ongoing help Lafferty may need in dealing with that problem.
“We do a lot of due diligence into our players as human beings,” he added. “It is important they come and represent the club professionally both on and off the pitch.
“It’s not something I’ve had a direct conversation with Kyle about yet. But I am here to help all the players behave both on and off the pitch. If Kyle has come out and been open about it, that is up to Kyle. At the moment it is none of my business. But if he needs any kind of help I am here for him.
“I’m still learning about Kyle the person and being educated about him. Look, we’re all human beings and we all make mistakes – I’ve made plenty. However, with age and experience we mature. I have no problem with players who play on the edge, and now and again get it wrong.
“I’ll stick with those players all the time. I’d rather be surrounded by players who want to give you everything they’ve got and now and again get it wrong than players who are just not capable of playing on the edge and playing on a consistent basis for a top football club.”
Gerrard still hopes to sign another central defender before the transfer window closes next week. Lafferty’s Northern Ireland team-mate Gareth McAuley, a free agent after leaving West Brom in the summer, is a possible target.
“We are still working very hard to try and get a defender in,” said Gerrard. “It could be a loan, a free or a buy. But it’s not that far down the line yet.”
Former club captain Lee Wallace, meanwhile, is fit again and back in the Rangers squad for tonight’s match. The 31-year-old left-back, who has not played for almost a year, was suspended and fined by the club towards the end of last season for an alleged bust-up with then manager Graeme Murty.