Rangers goalscoring great Mark Hateley has backed Kyle Lafferty to enjoy his best season yet at Ibrox.
The Northern Ireland international finished the past SPL campaign with his richest form since signing from Burnley in 2008.
And Hateley, who scored 112 goals in 218 appearances for the Glasgow giants, believes Lafferty’s end-of-season flurry with six goals in the last four games, should give the Fermanagh man the confidence to hit the ground running when the new season kicks off later this month.
“Kyle has found it very difficult to come in, and take in what is expected of him — he’s a young player, is a fan of the club, and had a big price tag to justify,” said Hateley.
“He is just starting to settle into those expectations, and a lot of the pressure on him is lifting. The hat-trick he scored on the final day will have helped that, too.”
Hateley has a degree of sympathy with the Kesh striker |(pictured), who has been played in several positions and faced a number of spells on the treatment table in the past three years.
But the man who was so prolific in front of goal for Rangers in the 1990s believes Lafferty should now be given a fair run.
“He’s not a left-sided player, or a right-sided player — he is a centre forward, and that’s where he should be played,” continued Hateley.
“We have seen little glimpses of what he is capable of, but he has got injured, played well, and then got injured again. Hopefully he has put that behind him.
“He never stops working for the team — even if sometimes he works too hard. His enthusiasm is great, and if he channels that enthusiasm into the right areas, I think you will see the best of Kyle.”
Hateley was recently present as an Ambassador at a Glasgow Rangers Soccer School at the Hanwood Centre in Dundonald.
The long, flowing locks which once made him one of football’s most instantly recognisable stars may have long gone, but his enthusiasm and passion for Scottish football burns more brightly than ever.
Now employed as a pundit for broadcasters Al Jazeera Sport, covering football from all over the world, he is happy to reveal that his bosses are flexible enough to let him follow Rangers for practically every home match of the season, outside of work.
Having played under such managerial heavyweights as Arsene Wenger, Bobby Robson, Fabio Capello and Walter Smith, Hateley has an impressive knowledge of the game.
The Scottish Premier League has had its detractors over the years for becoming too predictable due to the dominance of its two leading clubs — but Hateley believes it is now beginning to develop into one of the most exciting divisions around.
He added: “Unlike the top teams in all the major leagues around the world, Rangers and Celtic aren’t pulling away from the others.
“They are coming back, and that makes it more interesting to watch.
“Scottish football has a fantastic product, and it’s probably more entertaining now than it’s ever been.”