Dean Shiels believes Kyle Lafferty “won’t turn his back” on the Northern Ireland national team, despite getting caught up in a major row with the Football Association after pulling out of international duty, reports the Scotland Herald. Lafferty withdrew himself from the squad, citing an injury and lack of fitness, but the decision has led to him receiving a lot of criticism.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill admitted he was disappointed with the striker and said Lafferty’s decision to pull out of the team could have future repercussions. The 31-year-old has been a terrific servant for the national team, but he may have played his final game for Northern Ireland. Shiels came to Lafferty’s defence, insisting the Rangers striker still wants to play for his country.
He said: “I know Kyle. I grew up with him and played with him with Northern Ireland. He loves his country. I think he will return. Kyle will tell you himself that for a lot of years, when he was going from club to club, he played his best football for Northern Ireland.
“He won’t turn his back on that lightly. I hope he does come back. We certainly need him. We haven’t got an abundance of players in his position. Kyle will be happy to be playing for Northern Ireland and Rangers because he loves both of them.”
Lafferty has scored 20 goals in 68 games for Northern Ireland since making his debut under Lawrie Sanchez in May 2006. He returned to Rangers from Burnley over the summer and has started the new season strongly, scoring four goals in eight Premiership outings.
He’s an important player at club level and has plenty to offer his country. Northern Ireland aren’t blessed with much depth in attack if Lafferty isn’t in the side – evident from October’s defeats in the Nations League against Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina where they failed to score in both games.
Whether O’Neill welcomes him back to the fray is another matter, however.
Stats from Transfermarkt.