The Nomad Footballer Series: Kyle Lafferty

Nomad: a person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.

Clubs: Burnley, Darlington (loan), Rangers, Sion, Palermo, Norwich City, Caykur Rizespor (loan), Birmingham City (loan), Heart of Midlothian, Rangers, Sarpsborg 08, Sunderland, Reggina, Kilmarnock

Countries played in: 6

Most professional footballers go through their whole career only having a handful of clubs. In fact, some manage to spend their whole career at one club. Being a one-club man is something than endears football players to a fan base and is generally seen as the ultimate display of loyalty. However, what about those players that don’t manage to settle. The players who don’t find a home in their short professional career and instead jump from club to club in a pursuit of challenges and success. This series looks at those players who are footballing nomads; wanderers.

Kyle Lafferty

It feels as though Kyle Lafferty has been around for a very long time, and yet he is still only 33. He has bounced around from club to club during a career interspersed with controversy, and his career to date has been one that perhaps lacks the glamour of other nomadic footballers. However, he has still had relative success since starting his professional journey in 2005, boasting the title of Northern Ireland’s second highest goal scorer, behind former international strike partner David Healy.

Lafferty’s senior career began in 2005 with Burnley, who were then in the Championship. Despite being around the first team for much of his first season as a professional he was sent on loan to non-league Darlington in January 2006 where he would score three goals in nine appearances. On returning to his parent club the striker found himself having greater involvement in the first team squad but in 2008 would leave for Rangers, having scored ten league goals in 83 appearances for the Clarets.

Lafferty was only 20 when he signed for Rangers for the first time. He would return for a year in 2018, but his first spell at the club was his longest at any club in his career and he hasn’t come close to the 104 league appearances he made in that spell from 2008-12 since. In fact, he has not managed to reach 50 appearances for any one club in that time. He left Rangers in their darkest hour after lodging an objection to his contract being transferred to the new company that had been set up as a result of the financial troubles which led to Scotland’s most successful club being demoted to the fourth tier.

Lafferty’s time at Rangers was not without controversy as he was involved in an incident with Aberdeen’s Charlie Mulgrew in 2009, where he got Mulgrew sent off for a headbutt due to his reaction despite replays showing there had been little or no contact. Lafferty was subsequently fined by Rangers, and manager Walter Smith expressed his disappointment with the Northern Ireland striker. The punishment did not stop there however, with the Scottish FA rescinding Mulgrew’s red card and instead issuing Lafferty a two-match ban for simulation. In April 2012, in the midst of Rangers’ problems off the field, Lafferty was in more hot water with manager Ally McCoist banning him for two weeks following a training ground incident.

Lafferty’s time in the UK had come to an end following his Rangers exit, at least temporarily. Switzerland was his destination in June 2013, signing a three-year contract with FC Sion. Five goals in 25 league games followed and then onwards to Serie B side Palermo after just a year. In Italy Lafferty struck up an unlikely strike partnership with Paulo Dybala who has since gone on to achieve great things at Juventus. Lafferty managed 11 goals in 34 matches as Palermo stormed to the title and thus gained promotion to Serie A. The 6 foot 4 inch striker also earned the club’s Fan’s Player of the Year award after an impressive season. All looked well for Lafferty, perhaps this was the club he could settle at and continue his fine form into Italy’s top flight. Unfortunately not. While Lafferty’s performances on the pitch were to be admired his actions off the pitch were a cause for concern. Palermo’s president Maurizio Zamparini accused Lafferty of being an ‘out of control womaniser’ and cited this as a reason to sell Lafferty to Norwich City in the English Championship.

Lafferty managed a measly one goal in his first season at Norwich before being loaned to Turkish side Caykur Rizespor in February 2015. Norwich would be promoted to the Premier League in Lafferty’s absence. He also struggled to make an impact in Turkey, scoring just twice. A return to Norwich perhaps unsurprisingly didn’t lead to an upturn in game time and Lafferty was subsequently loaned to Birmingham City before being released at the end of his Norwich contract in 2017. Amidst all this, the striker was charged with misconduct from the FA in relation to gambling on football and was fined £23,000.

Lafferty opted to return to the place he had enjoyed the most success in his career, and returned to the Scottish Premier League, signing for Hearts. Lafferty impressed and looked set to get his career back on track after scoring 13 goals in the league, with the crowning moment of his year in Edinburgh scoring in a 4-0 win over Celtic which ended their 69 game domestic unbeaten run. A return to Celtic’s bitter rivals, Rangers, followed after his single season at Hearts. Again, Lafferty’s time at a club would last only a year, agreeing to terminate his contract in July 2019. In less than two years since leaving Rangers for the second time Lafferty has played for four clubs, firstly Norwegian outfit Sarpsborg 08, before spells at Sunderland and Reggina, and he now finds himself at Kilmarnock as of January 2021, where he has scored three goals in four games.

Whether Lafferty will find a home at Kilmarnock now that he is heading towards the twilight years of his career remains to be seen, although history suggests that his stay could be brief. Lafferty’s career is a strange one, with 13 clubs in six different countries. The centre-forward’s career is likely to be remembered for his achievements at international level rather than club level, and the Northern Ireland striker has in fact made more appearances for his country than all but one of his clubs. His 81 appearances at international level to date, coupled with the fact he is his nation’s second highest goal scorer, mean that even if his club career has been forgettable due to his tendency to move around, he has felt at home playing for his country. Perhaps the settled nature of playing for his country has brought out the best in him, a luxury he hasn’t yet been able to benefit from at club level. A career that will be best remembered for his international exploits, Lafferty scored seven goals in Northern Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign which led to their first ever European Championship finals.

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