Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough has told Kyle Lafferty that if he delivers for his latest club Reggina, in Italy, he can still be the main man in attack for his country.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Baraclough revealed that 32-year-old striker Lafferty was surprised to hear he was part of the new manager's plans and still had an international future.
Under Michael O'Neill, it was Lafferty's goals that helped take Northern Ireland to the Euro 2016 finals, netting seven in the successful qualifying campaign, and Baraclough has not ruled out the Fermanagh man doing the same later this year in the Euro 2020 play-offs.
At the weekend, former Rangers and Hearts star Lafferty, who has 20 international goals and is only behind David Healy in the all-time Northern Ireland scoring list, joined ambitious Serie B side Reggina on a two-year deal for his second spell in Italian football having previously been there with Palermo in Sicily.
Baraclough said: "I am not sure Kyle expected a phone call from me. He was surprised to take a call and possibly thought the door had been closed on him internationally but I told him straight, 'If you start scoring goals and are playing well you will always be in my thoughts'. Sometimes players may have pre-conceived ideas about what a new manager might think but we can't afford to close the door on anyone.
"Kyle is 32 and he may have thought that might be the end of it for him but he is a natural goalscorer and when he is playing well he is the type of player who can go on streaks of scoring."
Baraclough added: “Kyle’s goals helped propel Northern Ireland to the last Euros and if he could get on a scoring run like that he is as good as anyone in the country as the main striker.
“For me it was great to hear him talk with enthusiasm about the move to Italy. It sounds a good project at Reggina, having been just promoted to Serie B, and they are trying to put a squad together to go into Serie A.”
Baraclough has not let the grass grow under his feet since succeeding O’Neill last month and has been ringing round the players he will choose from for his first squad to take on Romania and Norway in September in the Nations League before the eagerly-awaited October 8 Euro 2020 play-off semi-final in Bosnia.
“I have managed to speak to pretty much everyone who has been in and around the squad of late. I have spoken to around 35 of the lads and they are all really keen which was good to hear.”