Craig Levein hailed Kyle Lafferty as “brave” after the Hearts striker came clean about his gambling problem and sought help in tackling the issue.
While the Tynecastle manager knows that some opposition fans may attempt to use the player’s issues as a means to verbally bludgeon him in upcoming games, he believes that mettle will allow him to ignore it and concentrate on helping the Gorgie club gather points and move up the league table.
A colourful personality, who has courted controversies in the past and has often had to live with his demons being put on display, the thick skin Lafferty has developed over the years should help him block any negativity from the stands, according to his manager, who insists that the response since the player spoke out on Tuesday has actually been positive.
“He has had plenty stick in his career and it just washes over him,” said Levein. “But I think you might be surprised this time. I think many people might sympathise because this 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 as most people will have a friend or relation or will know of someone 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.”
The gambling addiction took such a grip that the Northern Ireland international felt the need to confide in Austin MacPhee, who is a member of the management team with club and country, but Levein said that if the player had not come forward, it would have been impossible to detect a problem, and offer hope that he will be able to navigate his rehabilitation without the process having a detrimental impact on his performances in training or in matches.
“You wouldn’t have known. You wouldn’t know 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 and he has managed to hide problems which have obviously been very serious. Obviously, 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.
“I think, if there had been something wrong with his training or in games, we would have said: ‘Right, what’s wrong with you big man?’ But, because he’s so effusive every day, you know, you wouldn’t think there was a problem.
“It’s an issue in society, that people don’t talk about their problems, isn’t it? But he’s been very brave. He has got to the point where he needs to speak to somebody and he has a good relationship with Austin, so he spoke to him, Austin spoke to myself and Ann (Budge) and then we spoke to Kyle and his wife.”
Hearts have been applauded for supporting their summer signing and helping him gain the help he needs to address the issues. But Levein says that was a no-brainer.
“When you have Anne Budge running the company, with her morals and values, the club were only ever going to do one thing and that was support him,” added the manager.
“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 has no qualms about including the player in the squad for tomorrow’s trip to Dens Park, provided he recovers from a sickness bug that kept him away from the rest of the squad and training earlier in the week.
The 30-year-old is expected back today and could still force his way into Levein’s plans, with the manager keen to build on recent results and start accumulating some wins.
“There is more of a collective effort,” he added. “They are working hard for each other and to stay in the team. That part of it, I won’t turn away from it. Because, as soon as I do, it will drop back down again.
“But, at some point, we will be able to do both – be resilient, with loads of hard work and effort, but also play very well.”