How did the issue start?
Kyle Lafferty was called up by Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill for the country’s Uefa Nations League fixtures against Austria and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
However, the player contacted his manager at midnight, the day before he was due to meet up with the team Monday, 8 October, to say that he would not be available.
Why did Lafferty choose to do so?
There has been no definitive answer as to why Lafferty opted out of playing the two games but O’Neill cited a potential Achilles problem.
He said: “Kyle had an Achilles problem, we knew he had an Achilles problem in September. He felt he would be better served not coming and being part of the squad for these two games - albeit he’s been part of the Rangers squad all season.”
How big a blow was it for Northern Ireland?
In the last 12 months the country have played 11 fixtures, scoring seven times, three of which were in a friendly win over Israel.
Lafferty is the country’s second top scorer behind former Rangers striker David Healy with 20 goals.
Without his star striker, O’Neill started with former Kilmarnock, Aberdeen and St Mirren utility player Josh Magennis up front in a 1-0 defeat to Austria before ex-Ross County frontman Liam Boyce led the line in the 2-0 defeat to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The duo have scored five goals in 55 caps combined.
What was the IFA’s response?
Understandably unhappy, the country’s football association evoked a ruling which would prevent Lafferty playing for Rangers due to his decision to pull out of the international squad.
What is the ruling?
The ruling comes from FIFA Regulations for the status and transfer of players, Annexe 1, Section 5.
It states: “A player who has been called up by his association for one of its representative teams is, unless otherwise agreed by the relevant association, not entitled to play for the club with which he is registered during the period for which he has been released or should have been released pursuant to the provisions of this annexe, plus an additional period of five days.”
It is those last seven words which are key. As defined by FIFA, an international window is “a period of nine days starting on a Monday morning and ending on Tuesday night the following week.”
Those additional five days began on Wednesday and take into account Rangers’ fixture with Hamilton. If it was a Monday game Lafferty would be free to play.
How have Rangers reacted to the ruling?
The club were very understanding and released an explanation which bordered on support for the IFA’s decision.
It read: “Rangers can confirm Kyle Lafferty will not be available for the match against Hamilton on Sunday after the Irish FA invoked FIFA’s five-day rule.
“Talks have now been held among all parties and Rangers understands the position of the Irish FA.
“Kyle did not comply fully with international protocol but remains available for international selection.”
What has Michael O’Neill said?
Speaking ahead of the international matches he said: “I was unhappy to be telephoned 12 o’clock at night, [when I was] expecting the player to turn up on Monday. Kyle made himself unavailable. I’ve said all along, international football is a choice. The player decides to play or he doesn’t.”
Does Kyle Lafferty have a future with Northern Ireland?
O’Neill will sit down with both Lafferty and the Rangers management team to discuss the player’s international future but it appears the door is still open for the striker.