Another transfer window, another Northern Ireland international signs for Sunderland. So once more we turned to the editor of the Northern Irish Fanzine, Happy Days, to give us the lowdown on our latest signing.
It’s very easy to pre-judge Kyle Lafferty. Throughout his career, he’s been a tabloid writer’s dream. He’s married two Miss Scotlands, been accused of a number of stories involving his private life, had a number of high profile red cards, fallen out with and then recoupled with the Rangers fans and admitted to a gambling addiction.
But despite all of this, Kyle has always come good on the other side. A quick look back through his career shows the peaks and troughs and how certain factors and managers have helped him to still be an important member of the Northern Ireland squad.
Lafferty came through the ranks at Burnley, making his debut on the opening day of the 2005-06 Championship season away to Crewe. As well as a number of first team games for Burnley, his first season in professional football included a loan spell at Darlington, then in League Two. International recognition quickly followed and in June 2006, Kyle made his senior debut in Northern Ireland’s end of season tour to the USA, playing against Romania and Uruguay. Later that summer, Lafferty scored the first of his twenty international goals away to Finland.
Scouts soon started to take notice, but it was his boyhood team Rangers who won his signature in the summer of 2008. It should be pointed out to those that don’t already know, that Lafferty normally fills the number 10 role, as a second striker or target man. Think Niall Quinn, but with different pants. So he’s not a 20 goal a season man.
The first season at Rangers saw Kyle looking to establish himself as a regular in the starting line up alongside the more experienced Kris Boyd. His appearance record shows his starts v substitute appearance being similar in number as he vied with Kenny Millar and Nacho Novo for a role in the team.
Lafferty’s time at Rangers progressed year on year, winning the Scottish Premier League in his first three seasons. However, season 2011-12 was calamitous for Rangers, ending in liquidation, the club reforming and looking to start 2012-13 in the Scottish Third Division. This led to many first team players leaving the club in the summer of 2012 as their contracts did not have to be honoured by the reformed club. Lafferty was one of those players (and there were many) who chose to leave and the speed and nature of his departure was not met well by some Rangers fans.
Following the complex nature of leaving Rangers, it was perhaps no surprise that Kyle sought to move abroad, signing for FC Sion in the Swiss top league alongside fellow ex-Rangers player Gennaro Gattuso – who actually filled part of the season as player-manager. A return of 8 goals in 28 appearances wasn’t great, however it seemed to have an effect on his international form with Northern Ireland – where he was seen as the long-term replacement another ex-Sunderland striker, David Healy.
So the summer of 2013 saw Lafferty on the move again, this time to Palermo in Italy’s Serie B. His goalscoring record in Italy was decent (12 in 36 games) and ended with Palermo gaining promotion to Serie A. However it wouldn’t be Italy without some form of tabloid drama; Palermo’s president accusing Lafferty at one point of having women all over Italy!
Off the field issues seemed to continue Kyle’s erratic international form, with the striker seeing red shortly after being introduced as a substitute against Portugal. Northern Ireland were leading 2-1 at the time but the red card, coupled with some chap called Ronaldo taking things into his own hands, saw Portugal come back to win 4-2 with yer man Ronaldo grabbing a hat-trick.
With departure inevitable, Kyle decided to return to English football with Norwich City in the Championship. However, the club also signed Cameron Jerome and Lewis Grabban in the same window so competition for places was high. Unfortunately for Lafferty, he struggled to establish a place in the starting line-up and with only one league goal in the first half of the season, he joined Turkish club Caykur Rizespor on loan until May. Whilst Lafferty was out on loan, Norwich made a late surge from mid-table culminating in promotion back to the Premier League via the play-offs.
But things had changed for Lafferty. After hitting an international low against Portugal the year before, Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill was now publicly backing his striker and making Kyle his number one striker as the Euro 2016 qualifiers began. Lafferty repaid O’Neill’s faith in earnest as Northern Ireland won the opening three qualifiers for the first time in their history, Lafferty scoring in all three including a cracking strike away to Greece.
As Northern Ireland continued to edge towards Euro 2016 qualification, Lafferty remained a peripheral figure at Norwich in their Premier League season, playing just one league match before earning a loan spell at Championship Birmingham City to keep sharp ahead of the Euro 2016 finals. Although Lafferty did not score at the finals tournament in France, he did manage 7 goals in qualifying, repaying the faith O’Neill had put in him. He had certainly won the Northern Ireland fans over.
After a timid final season at Norwich, Lafferty returned to Scotland with Hearts in the summer of 2017. Regular football at last, in a familiar league, and the rewards were a career high 19 goals in 41 appearances. This form led to a return to heal some open wounds at Rangers on a two year deal.
Perhaps it was heart over head, but Kyle will perhaps be the first to admit that his return to Rangers didn’t hit the goalscoring targets he would have wished for. He can, however, claim to have made up for past events at the club he supported as a boy.
So, following a brief spell in Norway in the first part of this season, Kyle Lafferty once again returns to English football with Sunderland. He is definitely a Phil Parkinson-type signing, drawing comparisons to James Hanson who Parkinson used very effectively in Bradford’s glorious 2012-13 season where they reached the League Cup Final and won promotion from League Two.
As I said, don’t be expecting a ton of goals. What you should expect is a different kind of option up front from the other strikers already at the club. Perhaps he can act as a decent foil to Wyke or Grigg. Or perhaps he’ll lighten the mood in the camp and take a bit of pressure off the manager. Time will tell. Good luck Kyle!