Sunday 25 February 2018

O'Neill: free agent Lafferty can shine for a club that makes him happy

Michael O'Neill, right, has managed to get the best out of Kyle Lafferty
Michael O'Neill, right, has managed to get the best out of Kyle Lafferty

Michael O'Neill is confident his Northern Ireland forward Kyle Lafferty will be a success with his next club, provided they make him feel loved.

Lafferty will depart Norwich this summer after three unhappy years in Norfolk and the 29-year-old is looking for a new home to reignite his career.

O'Neill has managed to coax the best out of Lafferty following a heart-to-heart after his dismissal against Portugal in 2013, with the striker going on to score seven goals in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, a tally only four players bettered across the continent.

And the Northern Ireland manager believes the key to unlocking Lafferty's undoubted potential is to appreciate his ability.

"The main thing for Kyle is he's happy," O'Neill said.

"He needs to play. The last three years have been very, very frustrating for him with his opportunities at first-team level.

"In his defence, it's not like you can turn around and say he's been given a lot of chances. It's not like he's played loads and not scored - he's not played many games.

"He's scored a few goals but his opportunities have been very limited, certainly at Norwich. The loan spells at Birmingham and at Rizespor served a purpose but they didn't really go possibly as well as what he may have liked.

"It's very difficult when you go on loan in the second half of the season after you've not played in the first half; you're kind of playing catch up. That was part of the problem he had in the two loan spells.

"He needs to go somewhere where first of all he's happy that he's valued and if you make Kyle feel like that, he'll do well for you, simple as that.

"If he goes to a club that really want him, really value him and he makes the right decision in terms of the move he makes, I've no doubts he'll be a good signing for any club."

Lafferty's destination may once again be further afield after previous spells in Switzerland, Italy and Turkey.

Azerbaijan champions Qarabag are among the foreign clubs believed to have shown some desire to capture his signature and it is in that country where Lafferty is on international duty this week.

His limited club appearances have seen him slip down the pecking order for O'Neill, who may this weekend stick with the tandem of Charlton's Josh Magennis and Ross County's Liam Boyce after they impressed in the first half against New Zealand last Friday.

Asked about his attacking options in Baku, where Northern Ireland are without Conor Washington and Jamie Ward, O'Neill said: "When we've asked Josh to come and play through the middle he's never let us down.

"He played very well against Azerbaijan at home so they will be mindful of that, albeit he played off the right hand side.

"Liam has had a great season. He deserves his chance if it's given to him. He's looking very, very sharp in training.

"Kyle always steps up if required. He's not in the best condition that we'd like him to be, but for whatever part of the game he plays, I'm sure he'll make sure he does a good job for us."

Press Association

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