There’s something symbolic about the return of Kyle Lafferty to Rangers. The Northern Irishman spent four years at the Govan club, winning three league titles in a row, becoming something of a talisman.
He stands, at a lofty 6ft 4”, as a walking, talking, footballing throwback to a time of red, white and blue dominance in Scottish football.
So, it’s somewhat appropriate that with Rangers finally threatening something of a resurgence under Steven Gerrard, Lafferty is back at Ibrox, with his drawn out move from Hearts confirmed on Wednesday.
Gerrard wanted another striker to add to his squad, particularly after it emerged this week that Jamie Murphy will be out for the season, and Lafferty certainly fits the bill. He is proven in Scotland and at 30 years old has plenty more to offer.
But, Gerrard has surely considered more than just Lafferty’s professional credentials in making a move for the striker. The former Palermo, Norwich, Birmingham and Hearts attacker is a complex character. He has been both a galvanising figure and a disruptive influence over the course of his career, as Ally McCoist will attest.
Lafferty was banned for two weeks following a training ground bust-up with the then Rangers manager back in 2012.
Some Gers fans have still to forgive Lafferty for the way he forced his way out of the club the first time around. While others like Lee Wallace and Neil Alexander stayed with the club in their time of need, as Rangers faced up to the realities of administration, but Lafferty was among a group of players who objected to their contracts being transferred to a new company set up by Charles Green.
He forced his way out of Ibrox and signed for Sion as a free agent. Others, however, have been more willing to welcome Lafferty back. They remember him for the good times and maybe even see his return as emblematic of Rangers’ improved fortunes.
But where will he fit in under Gerrard? At Hearts, Lafferty formed an understanding with former Rangers teammate Steven Naismith, but thrived as the Jam Tarts’ number nine.
Rangers already have a number nine to lead the line, though. Alfredo Morelos has hit the ground running this season and he has done so as a lone forward.
It seems unlikely that, given their early season success, that Gerrard will change Rangers’ style and system solely to accommodate Lafferty, so where will he play?
Lafferty, who was the main man at Hearts, will probably have to make do with cameos off the bench and the odd rotational start. It says a lot about his desire to return to Ibrox that the Northern Irishman has been willing to accept this at this stage of his career, when he should be at his peak, but for how long will Lafferty really tolerate being on the bench?
He’s not shy to voice his opinion on things.
Gerrard insists Lafferty is a “no risk” signing, citing the 30-year-old’s past experience of playing for Rangers. “He knows what this club is all about,” said Gerrard. “He ticks all the boxes I’m looking for. There’s no risk in terms of him performing in front of the demands of this crowd. We’re a young squad so he brings vital experience.”
All this is true. Gerrard will also be aware of Lafferty’s scoring record against Celtic, with the first Old Firm derby of the season approaching fast.
If Rangers are to close the gap at the top of the Scottish Premiership, they’ll need players who can rise to the occasion. While there are doubts over Morelos’ big game capacity, no such doubts linger over Lafferty.
So far, Gerrard’s decision-making as Rangers manager has been solid. His recruitment has his shrewd and his early season results impressive. And so the former England and Liverpool captain has already earned the trust of the fans and the club in signing Lafferty.
Country to what Gerrard says, the transfer is a risk, but like all risks there is a potential for it to pay-off.