Kyle Lafferty: Northern Ireland’s Unlikely Euro 2016 Hero


Michael O’Neill almost performed miracles as he guided Northern Ireland to their first ever European Championships this summer. 

In an almost equally miraculous feat the manager has also managed to get the very best out of striker Kyle Lafferty.

The beanpole forward earned a £3m move to Rangers in 2008, after impressing at Turf Moor with Burnley. But his club career has been very mixed since that transfer.

When he’s on form he can be extremely dangerous with his direct running, ability to connect with crosses, good in the air and who likes to cut in from the left and shoot with his right. He’s one of those forwards that seems to be better when he don’t have time to think and just hits the shot early.

He stayed in Glasgow for four seasons, scoring thirty-eight times in 138 appearances. But for every Old Firm goal or fine performance, the Ibrox faithful would also see embarrassing antics (His reaction to this tête-à-tête with Charlie Mulgrew is very cringeworthy) or some woeful finishing or passing.

He became extremely frustrated when either Walter Smith or Ally McCoist would shift out-wide instead of playing him through the middle. In fairness to the managers, Lafferty did seem to consistently perform better on the wing and see more of the ball.

The Northern Irish striker’s attitude was also called into question, especially in his last season. After failing to turn up for duty one Saturday McCoist had enough with Kyle and suspended him for two weeks. It later came out that the two had various fallings out during Lafferty’s time in Govan.

The hitman would depart the Gers when he refused to have his old contract transferred to the new Rangers company.

As crazy and slightly inconsistent as his time was at Rangers, it would turn out to be his best prolonged period at a football club.

Lafferty would join Swiss club FC Sion in 2012 but couldn’t settle, not totally surprising since he worked under seven coaches within one season.

He would follow Italian World Cup winning legend Rino Gattuso (one of his bosses at Sion) to U.S. Palermo.

Lafferty seemed happy with the move and ready to prove himself in Serie B:

“I’m delighted to be here,”

 “When I was younger I watched a lot of Italian football and I know there’s a very passionate fanbase here at Palermo.”

On the park Kyle Lafferty impressed in Sicily. He bagged eleven goals, helped the Rosanero to the Serie B title and won the fans player of the year award.

But once again his off the field antics let him down and was too much for his club’s eccentric President Maurizio Zamparini. Not known for holding things back Signor Zamparini said this about his wayward forward:

“He is an out-of-control womaniser, an Irishman without rules. He is someone who disappears for a week and goes on the hunt for women in Milan.

“He has two families with six children, he never trains, he’s completely off the rails. On the field he’s a great player, because he gave us everything he had and more.

“In terms of his behaviour, however, he is uncontrollable. My Coach told me he cannot sort this player out, so he has to go.”

Those wild shenanigans saw Lafferty transferred for a third time in three years. This time he ended up going to Norfolk and joining Norwich City on yet another three year deal.

To say that he hasn’t really set the heather alight with the Canaries would be an understatement.

In his debut season, Norwich would win the Championship play-offs and yet Lafferty only managed one goal in seventeen appearances. After failing to impress new boss Alex Neill, Kyle was sent on loan to Turkish outfit Rizespor. In the Super Lig, he’d again spend most of his time coming off the bench rather than start games and wasn’t entirely convincing either.

In the season just finished, Norwich would return to the Premier League and struggle. In May they’d finally suffer relegation and their biggest issue was scoring goals. Yet even though finding the net was a big issue the Canaries still deemed Lafferty not good enough, the lanky forward only managed thirteen minutes on the field for Norwich before ending the season out on loan with Birmingham City.

In the Midlands he got valuable minutes and scored once in six games.

So at club level, it seems like Kyle Lafferty is fast becoming a football nomad that either struggles to settle off the park or can’t find form on it.

Yet his fortunes have changed on the international stage. The striker is now a key player for Northern Ireland, although that chance nearly passed him by as well.

As he said himself, he didn’t take things too seriously when he was younger and that included playing for his national team. He would often see his call-ups as an inconvenience and would call off at the drop of a hat.

He went two years without an international goal between 2012 and 2014. The forward went almost four years without a competitive goal to his name, the last came in 2010 against the Faroe Islands in a miserable 1-1 draw.

Then former Hibernian winger Michael O’Neill took-over the reigns at Windsor Park in 2011. He almost instantly seen Lafferty as a player with unfulfilled potential but who had some attitude issues as others had noticed previously.

It all came to ahead when Northern Ireland played against Portugal in 2013, Lafferty came off the bench and only lasted thirteen minutes before getting himself sent off. His only other moment of note in that game was letting his marker get away from him and watch on as his team conceded a goal.

Publicly O’Neill criticised his attacker:

“I feel he let the players down,” 

“We talk about reliability. We do not have that many players and the ones who come, we need them to be reliable and to do what you ask them to do.”

Privately the manager tore a strip off his player and demanded more from him.

That managed to get through to the Enniskillen born striker. Since then he has become a hero for his country.

As the Northern Ireland squad topped their qualifying group, Lafferty lead the line and scored an impressive six times. His brace against Finland gave the side a 2-1 victory.

He is now only second behind David Healy as his country’s all time leading goalscorer.

Healy’s career narrative is extremely similar to Kyle Lafferty’s. Both struggled to settle down at one club long enough to really establish themselves. Both had inconsistent times at various clubs and didn’t/don’t really seem capable of performing in an elite league in Europe.

But that said, both have proven themselves in the green jerseys for Northern Ireland. They become talismanic figures on the international scene and seem to play so much better for their country.

Lafferty knows that Michael O’Neill has almost saved his career, certainly at international level. O’Neill has shown faith in the hitman and stated no matter what happens to Kyle’s club form he’ll remain his number one striker.

Lafferty has rewarded that faith with the goals, smart runs and a new endeavour to give his all for Northern Ireland:

“The belief he gives me that I can go out and score against anyone is amazing. The way he’s man-managed me in the last two years has been superb.”

“I’ve always given 110 per cent for Northern Ireland, for my country.”

Come Euro 2016, club form will count for nothing. Don’t be surprised to see Kyle Lafferty bully and annoy the defences of Ukraine and Poland, even the mighty Germans will know that they have been in a game.

The stage is set for the twenty-eight year old forward to prove he’s finally settled down and ready to prove himself on the biggest stage.

2 Responses to “Kyle Lafferty: Northern Ireland’s Unlikely Euro 2016 Hero”

  1. Kyle Lafferty limps out of Northern Ireland training

  2. Dearie me, hope I haven’t jinxed things.

    Although O’Neill seems to think he’ll be ok

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