Leeds United: Former Whites star Healy backs Lafferty to deliver the goods

Kyle Lafferty
Kyle Lafferty
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Described as a ‘loveable rogue,’ Phil Hay asks former Leeds United striker David Healy if top target and his former Northern Ireland international team-mate Kyle Lafferty is the right fit for the Elland Road club.

Leeds United’s interest in Kyle Lafferty goes back beyond the appointment of Steve Evans in October.

David Healy.

David Healy.

When David Healy attended Elland Road at the start of this season he was asked by Massimo Cellino to give his opinion on the Norwich City striker.

Cellino wanted Evans’s predecessor, Uwe Rosler, to take Lafferty on loan from Norwich and bulk up his choice of forwards but Rosler was reluctant.

Having tried and failed to sign him in November, Evans is hopeful that a deal with Norwich will go through this month, bringing Lafferty to Elland Road until the end of the season.

Leeds and City are in negotiations but the move might wait until Norwich, who want Steven Naismith from Everton, make progress in the market.

Healy, who played for Leeds between 2004 and 2007, told Cellino that Lafferty at his best would be an asset. He only hopes that Lafferty does not suffer in the way that he did at Elland Road by struggling to mirror international form at club level.

“If I’m honest, I had a reputation at Leeds for never quite matching what I was doing for Northern Ireland,” Healy said. “I scored my share of goals for Leeds but I wasn’t always playing week in, week out and I wasn’t always played in my preferred position, certainly under (Kevin) Blackwell.

“It’s been a bit like that for Kyle for the last 18 months. Every time he plays for Northern Ireland he’s scoring goals and winning games. At club level, it hasn’t quite been happening. When you go to Leeds you need to set the club alight and do it consistently. If he goes to Leeds my hope for him would be that he could do both.”

Healy’s opinion of his career at Leeds is slightly self-depricating. He scored 29 goals in 111 appearances but was well respected and 14 of those goals were scored during the club’s run to the play-off final in 2006.

It was true, all the same, that in the period when Healy was taking down Sven Goran Eriksson’s England at Windsor Park, he was Northern Ireland’s talisman rather than United’s.

Norwich could say the same of Lafferty. The 28-year-old has barely played for City this season – one league appearance as a substitute – but his international performances were hugely influential in Northern Ireland’s qualification for Euro 2016.

Lafferty, who is a close friend of United winger Stuart Dallas, established himself as the province’s second leading goalscorer during the recent qualifying campaign, lodged behind Healy. With the finals in France approaching rapidly, Northern Ireland coach Michael O’Neill said he was keen to see Lafferty “gets playing” domestically.

Healy played with Lafferty at international level and roomed with him while they were on the books at Rangers in Scotland.

Lafferty was relatively prolific at Ibrox but his statistics in England are modest. Evans, however, rates him and sees Lafferty as striker who could play alone up front or in an attacking two.

Minus the injured Chris Wood against MK Dons on Saturday, Leeds were handicapped by the absence of an adequate replacement for him.

“I know what sort of club Leeds are,” said Healy, who now manages Linfield in Belfast. “It’s a great place to play but it can be a hard place to play if things aren’t working out.

“With Kyle, I think he’s the sort who could do well there and I think Leeds would benefit from having him. He does score goals. It maybe doesn’t look like it when you consider his club record but with Northern Ireland, when he’s starting games and getting a run in the team, he’s come up with goals at the right times.

“But more importantly, Michael’s been able to rely on him for big performances. He’s been able to play Kyle alone up front in key games away from home and Kyle’s always delivered for the team in a big way.”

Lafferty’s career has not been without its scrapes. He and Ally McCoist came to metaphorical blows at Rangers in 2012 and Lafferty’s year-long spell at Palermo between 2013 and 2014 ended with Palermo’s president, Maurizio Zamparini, describing him as “off the rails”.

Zamparini told Italian media: “He is an out-of-control womaniser, an Irishman without rules. He never trains, he’s completely off the rails. On the field he’s a great player, because he gave us everything he had and more. In terms of his behaviour, however, he is uncontrollable.”

Healy called Lafferty a “loveable rogue” and said his reputation for trouble was over-stated. “I roomed with him at Rangers and I thought he was a great character,” Healy said. “I guess he’s a bit of a loveable rogue. He likes a joke and if there’s something going down in the dressing room then it’s guaranteed he’ll be right in the middle of it.

“But I think he’s got a reputation he probably doesn’t deserve. People were maybe a bit quick to see him like that (a problem). Maybe the off-field stuff used to matter more to him but the way he’s playing for Northern Ireland his attitude looks right.

“He’s delivering for his country but I know from experience that you don’t just want that. You want to do it for your club as well. It’s an honour to play for your country but your club pay your wages and your club’s fans are there every week.

“The owner at Leeds asked me about him when I was over for a game earlier in the season so there’s obviously been interest for a while.

“If he ends up at Leeds, he’ll know how big an opportunity it is.”