Reformed Lafferty rivals George Best in Northern Ireland history

Belfast (AFP) – Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty’s approach to football was summed up when he was asked in a television interview who he wanted to play against at Euro 2016.

“For me, if we get Argentina that would be unbelievable,” he joked. 

Needless to say, there was of course never any danger of Lafferty facing them at the European Championship finals — a point the 28-year-old knew well enough, but what’s wrong with a bit of fun?

The problem for Lafferty was that his career was in danger of becoming known for such interludes rather than on-field achievements.

Scoring 11 goals in 34 matches to help Palermo win promotion to Italy’s Serie A in 2013 was no mean feat.

Yet what should have been a three-year contract was abruptly halted, even though he won the fans’ player of the season award, with Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini labelling him an “out-of-control womaniser.” This resulted in him being sold.

Lafferty, who got married to a one-time Miss Scotland, is far from being the first footballer whose private life has raised eyebrows.

Indeed, when a hotel porter found Northern Ireland great George Best in bed with Miss World he is alleged to have said, in all seriousness: “George, where did it all go wrong?”

That Best was with Miss World and Lafferty Miss Scotland may seem somehow appropriate given the difference in their football profile.

Yet Lafferty — whose seven goals in Euro 2016 qualifying, including goals in each of Northern Ireland’s opening three wins — did so much to get the province to the finals in France that he is starting to make his mark in Northern Ireland’s football history.

His glut of international goals came when Lafferty could not break into Premier League strugglers Norwich City’s first team. He had a loan spell in Turkish club football followed by a temporary move to English second-tier club Birmingham City.

Having started with north-west English club Burnley, Lafferty rose to prominence during a four-year spell with Scottish giants Rangers which yielded 38 goals in 138 games.

He won three Scottish titles during his time there.

But when the Glasgow giants relaunched under new ownership after a financial collapse, Lafferty objected to the transfer of his old contract and left to join Swiss side Sion.

For a largely faltering Northern Ireland side, Lafferty has a good record of 17 goals in 51 appearances.

Yet this was in danger of being overshadowed by poor discipline.

“His goal record was really good but his discipline was horrendous, 44 bookings,” Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill told the Daily Mail. 

“I told him I didn’t dislike him and that if I was in the dressing room I would be friends with him. But he was so important to us and I had to make him realise the need to change.”

And now a reformed Lafferty is on his way to a major tournament finals — something even Best didn’t manage.

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