Hearts boss Craig Levein fears serious money could force the Scottish Premiership side to sell Kyle Lafferty after the Northern Ireland star he became the most prolific Tynecastle striker since John Robertson.
Manager Levein is desperate to keep Lafferty to spearhead next season’s attack, but he admitted that a big transfer bid could derail those plans.
Lafferty scored his 19th goal of the season in Wednesday’s 2-1 win against Hibs. The last forward in maroon to reach that total in one campaign was Robertson in 1996/97.
Lafferty will aim to reach the 20 mark against Kilmarnock on Sunday to become the first Hearts player with most goals in a season for more than a quarter of a century. The last person to reach 20 for the club was Robertson in 1991/92.
Teams in the UK and abroad are monitoring Lafferty’s prowess and Levein can only hope Hearts manage to resist any offer for a player whose contract runs until 2019.
“Of course we want to keep him. Our biggest danger is somebody coming in and offering big money for him. I’m desperate for him to stay and still be here at the start of the season,” Levein told the Edinburgh Evening News.
“He is more than just a team-mate on the field. He’s brilliant in the dressing-room so I’m looking forward to working with him next year as well.”
Lafferty’s scoring ratio from 40 club appearances has earned him comparison with Robertson’s statistics. “He’s in good company now, isn’t he?” smiled Levein.
“Kyle doesn’t need four chances to get a goal. He just scores. His goal against Hibs was about pure tenacity. I thought he’d lost the ball on two occasions and then he’s managed to get it back.
“It was a really difficult finish but he has that calmness and composure in front of goal that all good strikers have got.”
After the match, Lafferty said he still hoped to be a Hearts player next season after finally scoring his first derby goal. “I don’t think I’ve turned up myself in these games. I know how much it means to the club and to the fans,” he stressed.
“I haven’t been happy with my performances in the derbies so far, but tonight it’s the last home game – I’m hoping it’s not going to be my last derby for Hearts.”