Striker Leigh Griffiths is finally being given the chance to be Celtic’s main man up front and boy is he making the most of his opportunity. Striking fear in to the heart of opposing defences as he bids to turn around a career which threatened to take another nose dive.
Throughout his formative and adolescent years it is no secret that he could be “hard work at times” but that he was “always capable of scoring a goal from nothing.” These words emanating from his old mentor Tam Currie of Leith Athletic. Currie was talking about Griffiths in the aftermath of his first call up to the Scottish International set up back in 2012 against Luxembourg.
His career has been a rocky one with highs and lows along the way, he seems to be hitting the right notes now as he wins over the Celtic faithful and his management team.
Leigh was close to the exit door at Parkhead in the summer. There were all sorts of rumours about his discipline, his relationship with Ronnie Deila and his state of fitness. Indeed he was apparently all set for a move back to his favourite club – Hibernian – until Peter Lawell and Celtic pulled the plug at the last minute.
Griffiths was then left in the wilderness for a while, playing in Development League matches and no doubt wondering what lay in store for him. He was always better than that, of course but high profile incidents off-the field led to more staining accusations that threatened to besmirch a talented individual.
We all know he could have handled things differently but who are we to judge?
When the boy is allowed to do his job no-one can legitimately argue with his ability to do so at the very top. Although in the world of social media and footballers being big personalities Leigh is just one of a number who are hounded every day alongside that we’ve got to remember they are humans just like the rest of us.
Mistakes will be made – on and off the field.
Again no one can argue that as footballer you are an idol to so many and you have a lot of young kids looking up at you. Thus you have a responsibility on your shoulders to behave in the correct manner. Although with these responsibilities comes a lot of pressure and what we tend to forget is that these guys are also very young themselves.
Alas we should concentrate on the positives rather than the negatives. For a start kids are more likely to be on their local football pitch scoring goals, pretending they are Leigh Griffiths while playing with their pals rather than nipping down the local Tesco to ‘steal’ a few bottles of lucozade – like Leigh Griffiths was alleged to have done – for their half time energy boost.
Of course he was found not guilty of that particular incident and all the off field stuff is being put firmly to bed by doing what he knows best. Scoring goals, goals and more goals.
Putting a firmer accent on Griffiths’ goal tally rather than his cautions off the field is vital not only for those who idolise him but for the player himself.
Lets not stifle him with anymore sickening messages from ‘Keyboard Gangsters’ lets praise a fine young Scottish talent who is beginning to prove to everyone just how good he really is.
Livingston, Dundee, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Hibernian and Wolves again saw the good, the bad and the ugly side of the talented striker before he wound up at Celtic Park initially under the guidance of former Celt Neil Lennon.
Following productive spells in West Lothian and on Tayside he earned a valuable move to Wolves who at the time were plying their trade in the English Premiership. For what ever reason he never settled down in the Midlands, more than likely, as a young Dad he was missing his children who stayed up north, absolutely nothing wrong with that.
However 13 goals in 31 games and only 21 starts is a record most strikers would take at any club.
Whilst at Wolves a homesick Griffiths was afforded the opportunity to play for his boyhood heroes, Hibernian and despite a slow start he guided his team to a Scottish Cup final appearance which ultimately ended in an embarrassing reverse for his side but he returned the following season and his goalscoring exploits with the Easter Road was the main reason behind his call up to the international squad.
Scoring 38 goals and creating a further 20 Leith born Leigh was instrumental in saving Hibs from relegation that season and helped them progress to another Scottish Cup Final eventually losing out to his current employers at Hampden. Griffiths had suffered an injury in training the week of the Cup Final and his fitness was well below 100%. Hibernian lost any chance they had of emerging victorious with that unfortunate incident.
Upon Pat Fenlon’s dismissal from the capital club Griffiths simply tweeted: “Devastated! The man was a father figure to me and I am only where I am now because of him. Great guy and a good manager.”
He’s never been the easiest of players to manage if the stories are true but here was a man who believed in him and brought the best out in him. Griffiths was ‘at home’ with Hibs and Hibs were at home with him whilst he was on loan.
Despite a couple of changes in manager and the fact that ‘Sparky’ had only been at Celtic for over 8 months Alan Stubbs tried to re-sign him for the Hibees – on loan – this season but for whatever reason Celtic reneged on the deal and the fiery hitman is only now setting about writing his own history. For all that is in the past now and he is finally being given the opportunity to be the lead striker just like his talent deserves.
Neil Lennon signed Griffiths, for Celtic, in January of the 2013/2014 season and he repaid the Northern Irishman’s faith in him by notching 7 goals in 14 games and creating a further 9 for his teammates including a hat trick in a five nil battering of Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Under Lennon’s replacement, Ronnie Deila, the days looked numbered for Griffiths and with appearances extremely limited in the early part of the season it appeared as if he had been frozen out completely. His relationship with the Celtic fans was brittle to say the least and despite his best efforts to get them onside he seemed to be losing that particular battle.
He’s come a long way since early autumn and with the winter came Griffiths’ chance. Missing only one game since the turn of the year his Celtic career looks to have turned full circle. He missed the Glasgow derby in Maryhill through injury but has scored in a Scottish Cup win against Dundee and opened the scoring in the QTS League Cup Semi Final victory over one time foes Rangers. That wasn’t a spectacle that befitted the usual Old Firm tag but it was an occasion that Griffiths will remember for a long time to come.
Looking fitter, sharper and with a point to prove this young man is going places and about time too. As Celtic head towards a two-legged fixture with Internazionale, Griffiths will be hoping that he is allowed to continue his run in the team, cementing his place by claiming the goals that will lead Celtic to further European destinations and a possible domestic treble.
He deserves to start in Europe on Thursday night with four goals in five games he’s surely earned the right to start ahead of John Guidetti. The big Swede has had to sit on the bench of late thanks to Griffiths’ recent revival and a downturn in his own fortunes in front of goal.
Prolifically, in 22 starts for the Parkhead club Griffiths has scored 15 goals and assisted a further 12 for his grateful teammates. In summary he is involved in a goal every 78 minutes when he is on the park in a green and white shirt.
Not bad for a player who looked to be on his way out of the club.
His goal scoring feats are matched by a work ethic, off the ball, that contradicts the belief that he isn’t the type of player that the Celtic management want in their squad. That may well have been the case before but his willingness and his desire to succeed is illustrated by his return to the side and the noticeable increase in his fitness and endurance.
Standing on his own two feet, he directly faced up to the initial challenges at Celtic and he is now running himself in to the ground for the cause. All this extra effort is helping to win over any doubters and with such a glamorous European tie on the horizon he will be able to display his direct pace, sharp movement, clever footballing brain and his finishing prowess on a more continental stage.
Under the guidance of Deila and John Collins, Leigh has not only become an even better player he has matured beyond his relatively youthful years and this is what will stand him in good stead as a turbulent season – for the player – reaches what should be an exhilarating climax.