Kyle Lafferty can realise international ambitions if he joins Hearts
Northern Ireland assistant boss Jimmy Nicholl has stressed the need for Lafferty to join a club where he will be a first-team regular
Jimmy Nicholl last night urged Kyle Lafferty to make Hearts his next club in order to snatch back a starting spot for his country.
Record Sport yesterday revealed the former Rangers striker is at the top of the club’s wishlist after his release by Norwich.
Talks between Lafferty and Hearts are expected to take place when the player returns from a summer holiday in Dubai.
And Northern Ireland assistant boss Nicholl has stressed the need for Lafferty to join a club where he will be a first-team regular, having started just 22 games in the last three seasons.
The marksman lost his place in the starting XI to ex-Ross County frontman Liam Boyce for Northern Ireland’s last two games against New Zealand and Azerbaijan.
With World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and the Czech Republic on the horizon, Nicholl said: “The Hearts interest doesn’t surprise me at all – I’m sure there are a lot of clubs who would love to have Kyle on board.
“The most important thing for Northern Ireland and Kyle himself is he finds a club quickly, starts getting games again and scores goals.
“He has found himself down the pecking order for Northern Ireland and I’m sure that is not where he wants to be.
“He needs to be careful another summer doesn’t bypass him where he doesn’t find the right club. Our squad is meeting up at the end of August for two vitally important games in September and he will need to be sharp and ready.
“We are trying to do something special and he will want to be a big part of that.
“It has been a very long time that Kyle has been unable to find a club where he will play regularly and he realises now he needs to make the right decision.”
Lafferty, who scored seven goals in qualifying on Northern Ireland’s way to Euro 2016, is likely to have more lucrative offers on the table with Ipswich among the clubs south of the border credited with an interest.
However, Nicholl believes the 29-year-old only needs to look as far as the man who has overtaken him in Michael O’Neill’s Northern Irish side for an example of how a return to Scotland could kickstart his career ahead of the World Cup.
The ex-Raith Rovers and Cowdenbeath boss said: “Michael gave Kyle a platform when he wasn’t playing much football at all during qualification for the Euros.
"That was his opportunity to show people what he could do and he certainly did that. But there comes a time when you need to be playing football every week. It would be a good move for Kyle if he went up to Hearts. He’s living up there and Hearts are a fantastic club.
“He’d be testing himself against Rangers and Celtic, playing and hopefully scoring against good players. If he does the business up there then I have no doubt he would go right up in Michael’s thoughts.
“Liam Boyce has proved if you are playing well and scoring goals in Scotland then you can grab the jersey.
“Now he has his move to England on the back of that. Josh Magennis is another one who has done that.”
Hearts’ bold move to tempt Lafferty back to the Scottish top flight could be boosted by the fact international colleagues Austin MacPhee and defender Aaron Hughes are already at Tynecastle
Indeed, Jambos No.2 MacPhee – who is on O’Neill’s coaching staff – flagged up Lafferty as an example of the type of maverick talent they’d be keen to recruit at a recent sitdown with fans.
Nicholl said: “Kyle obviously has financial commitments and needs to look after himself and his family.
“But I just want to see him playing football and doing well. Hearts really would fit the bill to give him that opportunity in terms of the standard of opposition, platform and the people around him.”