LEIGH Griffiths must learn self-control or end up wasting his talent, Pat Stanton has warned.
The former Hibernian captain still regularly attends matches at Easter Road, and is a great admirer of Griffiths’s ability as a striker.
But he is concerned by the amount of publicity the 22-year-old has generated away from the game and fears Griffiths could go down the same route as ex-Hibs players Garry O’Connor and Derek Riordan, who have both under-achieved severely after a highly promising start to their careers.
“He’s a good player, he’s scoring the goals but, if he maybe just eases off a wee bit, I think he’d be an even better player,” Stanton said of Griffiths, who was charged with shoplifting last weekend, and had to apologise earlier last month after making an allegedly racist remark on Twitter. “Some of the publicity he’s receiving he could do without. Nobody likes that.
“It’s up to him, really. He’s not a kid any more. I think it’s something the manager could do without, and Leigh could do without as well.
“I think you’ve seen it over the years, players with great ability. I think the game comes too easy to some of them and they get away with things that other players don’t get away with.
“He’s 22. Before long he’ll be 32. So, in between stages, you’d like him to think: ‘Don’t look back and think ‘I could have done that’. Now’s the time’.
“He’s got great ability, and he’s getting himself a great reputation on the park. It’s just a pity, these other wee things off the park. I don’t think they’re affecting his performance. But it’s something he could do without. If he was standing here, I’m sure he would agree.”
In his playing days with Hibs and Celtic, and later as a manager, Stanton saw at first hand several examples of men who neglected to make the most of their lavish ability.
His fear is that Griffiths could be another case of a footballer to whom it all comes so easily that he fails to appreciate his own gifts.
“I think it’s just in their personality. Over the years I imagine there must have been umpteen people took George Best aside and tried to point him in the right direction.
“And people like Jim Baxter, or a player I played alongside at Easter Road, Willie Hamilton. He was good as anybody. But it was just in their nature – free spirits or whatever you want to call them.
“They had all that ability and I don’t think they needed to work hard at their game, because they were that talented. But come the age of 27, 28, those guys were starting to go back the way, when really they should have been at their peak.”
That has certainly been the case with O’Connor, 29, and Riordan, 30. Both enjoyed very promising starts to their careers with Hibs. Both are now clubless.
“You just have to look back a wee while to when these lads were around 20 years old,” Stanton said.
“You don’t want to be in a position at the end of your career when you look back and wish you’d done this or that. Now’s the time to do it.
“But, at the end of the day, it’s down to yourself. The manager can only tell you so many times. You’ve got to say to yourself: ‘I’ve got to try to sort this out’.
“It’s not as if [Griffiths’] ability is a problem. A lot of the time you say to yourself ‘This player’s maybe not good enough’. But in this case that’s not the problem.
“You can’t fault his performances or his workrate. According to all the reports he’s well liked by the players, and the manager likes him. I think as a person he’s very likeable – but there’s just that wee achilles heel.”
Stanton’s sympathy for Griffiths as an individual extends to the job he does on the pitch. Griffiths is Hibs’ top scorer by some way and Stanton thinks it is about time other players – and not just the strikers – contributed a bit more.
“He’s certainly scoring the goals, but I would like to see other players taking a bit of responsibility and scoring goals. There are players there who have probably never even attempted a shot at goal. It’s a wee bit dangerous relying on Leigh scoring all the time.
“The minute he scores goals people are marking him closer. That should give other people the opportunity to go and score. It’s dangerous relying on Leigh far too much.
“Other people have to go and contribute. You see some guys have maybe scored one goal in two seasons. That’s not enough.”
Griffiths scored the winner against Aberdeen in last season’s Scottish Cup semi-final, but this season Hibs have yet to beat Craig Brown’s side in three attempts. However, as the teams prepare to meet again in the cup at Easter Road on Sunday, Stanton is unconcerned by that fact.
“What happens with the next game has got no bearing on what’s happened in the past. It’s another day. You just get on with it.”
Those sentiments might also stand as advice from Stanton to Griffiths. What’s gone has gone and cannot be changed, but the future is yours to determine.