Belfast Telegraph

I'd welcome a return to Rangers in the future, says Kyle Lafferty

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty has revealed that he wants to return to Rangers in the future and show the fans he has learnt lessons from the past and prove to them that he is no longer the 'crazy guy' they saw in a controversial four-year spell at the club.

Speaking ahead of tomorrow night's friendly between Northern Ireland and Scotland, the 27-year-old from Fermanagh gave a searingly honest account of his time at Ibrox, and his regrets, admitting that he blew his big chance with the team he will always support.

It was compelling stuff from Lafferty, as he sat in a room inside the plush Dalmahoy Marriott Hotel and Country Club, the base for Michael O'Neill and his team until Thursday when they fly into Belfast for Sunday's crucial Euro 2016 qualifier at home to Finland.

Lafferty, of course, has been instrumental in helping Northern Ireland into second place in Group F scoring three goals in four games, stating in that period he played the best football of his international career.

Determined to continue that form against the Finns, he wants to warm up with an impressive display at Hampden, where he knows he'll face a hostile reception from Scottish fans, who have not forgotten his Rangers days.

Lafferty, who turned down Celtic to join the Gers in a £5m move from Burnley in 2008, fell out with everyone bar his own shadow back then; including Rangers boss Ally McCoist, Celtic manager Neil Lennon, officialdom, when he feigned injury to get Charlie Mulgrew (then at Aberdeen) red carded, and opposition supporters.

He didn't just make back page headlines. He was front page news too for off the field shenanigans. It was a shame because there were times when he showed his undoubted quality, scoring vital goals for Rangers, including title-winning strikes.

He left the club in 2012, like several other players objecting to the transfer of their contracts from Rangers to the newco club when the shocking financial state of the Ibrox outfit started to become apparent.

It was a decision that angered Rangers fans.

Lafferty, now on loan at Turkish club Caykur Rizespor from Norwich City, previously said such was the ill feeling towards him, he wasn't sure if he could ever go back to his boyhood club, but in a fascinating interview yesterday, the man from Kesh outlined his ambitions to play for the Gers again.

Asked how different a player and person he is now compared with his time at Rangers, Lafferty said: "I have definitely matured. I've realised that I didn't focus enough when I was at Rangers, but I let my football do the talking now and I'm enjoying it.

"Moving to a club like Rangers at 20 was hard, especially with me coming from a wee village in Northern Ireland. That step up hit me.

"I would be the first to admit that I did some daft things at Rangers on the pitch and off it but it was a learning curve for me and I have learnt my lessons and it's all about football now for me.

"I've regretted some of the things I did on and off the pitch. To play for a club like Rangers and be known as a crazy guy was not the way I wanted to be.

"I did score some important goals for Rangers but I'm probably more known as the guy who was given a chance and didn't really take it.

"Scoring title-winning goals was a dream come true, but as I said some of the things I did on the pitch and the stupid things I did off the pitch probably took the shine off it."

Quizzed on the reaction from Rangers fans since he left, Lafferty said: "Some have asked me to go back and I'd jump at the chance to go back to Rangers. Whether that's an option or not that's another thing. What happened when leaving was disappointing. It wasn't the way I wanted to end my Rangers career but it had to be done."

So, in the club's current state, in the Scottish Championship, would he go back?

"I wouldn't say I wouldn't. I've supported them since I was a young boy and I still support them, but I'm a Norwich player and a Rizespor player and that's where my focus is," Lafferty replied.

Would he like a second chance at Rangers to change people's opinion of him?

"Yeah I would. If I went there now and let my football do the talking it would change people's minds about me," he said.

Who knows? In football anything can happen, like Northern Ireland qualifying for a major championships again after all these years.

"The table doesn't lie. We are the second best team in the group at the moment and I don't think there is much between us and Romania who are top," added the ex-Palermo and Sion forward.

"I'm loving it with Northern Ireland. Michael O'Neill has shown a lot of belief in me. He called me into the squad again after the last campaign and after I was sent off against Portugal and I'm out to repay him and the lads and hopefully we'll qualify."

And life in Turkey? "It's completely different to anywhere I've been to. There's not that much to do so I can't get myself into trouble! I didn't really get much game time at Norwich as a striker, had the chance to go abroad to play games and I took it."

Lafferty will be a key figure against Finland. First though it's Hampden where he often played for Rangers and taking on old rivals like Celtic captain Scott Brown again.

"Me and Scott have had a few tussles on the pitch. There's Scott and a few other players I'll look forward to seeing again. I'm sure it will be exciting," said Lafferty, as straight talking as he has been sensational for Northern Ireland in the Euro campaign.

Friendly: Hampden Park,  Scotland v Northern Ireland, Wednesday, 7.45pm

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