Assessing Sunderland's Kyle Lafferty swoop and what to expect from Phil Parkinson's signing

Phil Parkinson’s first foray into the transfer market as Sunderland boss was one that will undoubtedly have raised a few eyebrows.

Tuesday, 14th January 2020, 11:45 am

At 32, Kyle Lafferty has had a nomadic and it is fair to say, controversial, career.

Of course, as is always the case in football, there is more to this Northern Irishman than the caricature.

The truth tends to lie somewhere in the middle and when the news broke of Sunderland’s interest in Lafferty, it brought to mind a fascinating interview from 2016.

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Sunderland striker Kyle Lafferty in action for Rangers alongside Jermain Defoe

Then Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill was discussing Lafferty with journalist Graham Hunter. It was the eve of EURO 2016 and Lafferty had been in quite remarkable form to fire his side to the top of their qualifying group, the first time they had ever managed to achieve that feat.

O’Neill’s tale of how he managed him spoke of a popular and good-natured character, one who needed focus and direction but could deliver something immensely worthwhile if he received it.

Crucially, he spoke of a player who above all else, brought an irrepressible work-rate and it is for this reason that his move to Sunderland makes sense.

Lafferty has never been prolific at the club level, though his goal scoring record has been good in the stages where he has played regularly.

Parkinson, though, has Charlie Wyke improving by the week and it is expected that he will add another forward before the end of the January window.

Lafferty’s height and physicality means he makes sense as cover for Wyke and in his first interview on Monday, he underlined the way he intends to operate when he does get the chance to lead the line.

“I'll always give 110%, even when we're losing and the game looks out of our reach," he said.

“I'll still be going, chasing every ball down and fighting for every ball. I'll try and help the team get points on the board.

“I know what it takes to play for a team like this and I'm excited to be here.”

Parkinson talked of a player with a skillset that can suit the target man role he is asking his striker to play.

“I was very pleased, he brings good competition at the top of the pitch, he has good energy, can stretch the pitch,” he said.

“He has good physicality about his game and his movement in and around the box is good.

“He has some work to do, he hasn’t played for a while but that started this morning, he was in training.

“We look forward to working with him properly from Monday.”

It’s a relatively low-risk signing that Parkinson has made on instinct.

A belief that Lafferty’s career, for club and country, suggests a player who tends to thrive the bigger the stage is.

There is a significant carrot for Lafferty, with two crunch qualifiers against Bosnia in March and therefore the possibility of a role at another international tournament in the summer.

He has not scored for his country since 2016 and one suspects he has unfinished business in that regard.

Parkinson hopes that this, as well as the opportunity to thrive at a big club ahead of a summer in which he will be out of contract, can coax the focus required to contribute to Sunderland’s promotion push.

Supporters may have been interested to read the thoughts of Gareth McAuley, a team-mate at international level of Lafferty’s.

He questioned how Lafferty and Parkinson would together, saying the pair were ‘chalk and cheese’ in their approach to football.

It’s something the Black Cats manager will no doubt have pondered deeply, given the way he has prioritised team culture above alse. The decision to remove Aiden McGeady from the first-team environment was arguably the most controversial of his tenure to date.

He said it was not due to one particular incident, but that he felt the spirit could be better.

His standards are high and he will not tolerate any attempt to be the exception.

It is going to be a fascinating subplot in the final months of the campaign. In that interview, O’Neill went on to say that Lafferty was a player that while shining for his country, ultimately needed a home at club level.

He looked to have found it at Hearts, where he played, scored and was an immensely popular figure with supporters, but the lure of a return to Rangers was too great to resist and his progress since then has been mixed.

In the context of Sunderland’s wider transfer window, Lafferty is unlikely to be the most significant addition.

There has been a promise of both investment and of signings for the future, and supporters will expect that to be honoured in the coming fortnight.

This particular deal is about ensuring Parkinson has depth to keep playing the way that has brought about some encouraging displays and results at long last.

The hope is that a player who relishes the pressure and expectations of a club like Sunderland can make himself a hero.

Only time will tell whether that proves to be the case, but it seems unlikely to be dull.