Michael O'Neill warns Kyle Lafferty that regular football is more important than money if he is to keep his Northern Ireland place
PUBLISHED: 11:01 30 May 2017 | UPDATED: 11:21 30 May 2017
Money must not be the driving force behind Kyle Lafferty’s choice of new club if he wants to continue his international success, Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has warned.
Lafferty will be a free agent when his Norwich City contract expires at the end of June, as the Canaries have already announced they will not be activating the one-year option in the big striker’s deal.
The 29-year-old is currently with his national team-mates – including Norwich keeper Michael McGovern – for a home friendly against New Zealand on Friday (7.45pm) ahead of a World Cup qualifier in Azerbaijan on Saturday, June 10 (5pm UK time).
Amid speculation that he could return to former club Rangers, O’Neill has made clear he expects his talisman to play regular football next season.
“He needs to play and I’ve had that conversation with him,” the Northern Ireland boss said. “There’s obviously always financial implications when you move. He’s coming from a Premier League side by leaving Norwich but his next club choice is about playing football as opposed to possibly how much you are going to earn to be honest.
“Kyle is still in good physical shape and he can play on comfortably for another four or five years at the level he is playing at, but at the next club he needs to play football because in the last three years he hasn’t played anywhere near enough and if that scenario continues it makes it more difficult for us and him.
“He’s not particularly happy about it either. After a good time at Palermo he wanted to play at Norwich and what he has achieved with us has kept his spirits higher than they would have been. But he knows now that whatever he does next it is very important for the remaining period he has left in his career.”
Lafferty was signed by former City boss Neil Adams in 2014 but made little impact after joining from Palermo for an undisclosed fee, despite performing well for his country, scouring four goals in 39 games and spending time on loan at Ceykur Rizespor in Turkey and with Birmingham City.
He made 16 appearances this season but 14 were from the bench, scoring just twice, in a 6-1 thrashing of League One side Coventry in the EFL Cup and a 3-2 home loss to Leeds in the Championship.
The former Burnley forward has scored 20 goals on his way to earning 60 caps for his country and has scored three in five qualifying games for the 2018 World Cup in Russia so far.
The Enniskillen-born striker rose to prominence with seven goals in Euro 2016 qualifying, as O’Neill steered Northern Ireland to their first international tournament in 34 years, when only five players scored more than him.
However, he last played for Norwich as a late substitute in a 2-1 loss at Burton in mid-February and was only a late substitute in a 2-0 friendly win over Norway for his country in late March – making fitness his biggest issue.
“Kyle is obviously a concern because he hasn’t had any more first team football since the last time we spoke, and after assessing him last week it’s a case of seeing what we feel are the number of minutes we can get out of him,” O’Neill added, speaking to the Belfast Telegraph.
“Kyle worked extremely hard last week in hot conditions, it was high intensity ball work but I can’t babysit the players all the time. The responsibility is on the player to come to us fit to play. It’s not my responsibility to get them fit when they are here, I don’t have a long enough time to do that. If I had to get him fit when he was here he wouldn’t play because he’d be worked so hard during the week.
“We have that balancing act with the players, who were told in March they needed to stay fit.
“We have been through this before but we need to assess where the players are.
“The most important thing for us in this game is to put a team on the pitch that will be as game ready as possible. We don’t want players that are lacking in fitness. For the other countries it’s less of an issue as they can pick a 23-man squad from the Premier League.”