O’Neill says Lafferty is “no more important” than the rest of the squad

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill says Kyle Lafferty is “no more important” than any of the players in his squad, after the Rangers striker withdrew himself from the national team for fitness reasons.

O’Neill admitted disappointment in the centre-forward pulling out of the team, but also revealed he wasn’t guaranteed to be a starter for their double-header against Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

As per The Sun, O’Neill said: “Kyle is no more important than any other player we have here. There was no guarantee Kyle was going to come here and play anyway. He had an Achilles problem – we knew he had an Achilles problem in September.

“He felt that it was in his best interests that he didn’t travel because it gives him the opportunity to stay off the Achilles and that’s the reason for him withdrawing from the squad.

“There’s plenty of time to have that conversation later. At the end of the day, the player has made himself unavailable so we’ll focus on the squad we have here.”

The 49-year-old later admitted the striker “hadn’t helped his international future”. Pulling out of the national team squad without much of a reason is going to irk the management and disrespect the players.

Lafferty, who re-joined Rangers from Hearts in August 2018, may have put an end to his hopes of representing Northern Ireland again. The 31-year-old, who has scored 20 goals in 68 games for his country, made a big call to reject the call-up and may not get the chance to pull on the jersey again.

O’Neill clearly isn’t happy with Lafferty and could opt against a recall as punishment. Will Grigg, Conor Washington, Liam Boyce, Josh Magennis and Kyle Vassell could find themselves ahead of the Rangers forward in the pecking order moving forward.

Stats from Transfermarkt.

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