CELTIC manager Neil Lennon yesterday provided the clearest indication yet that troubled striker Leigh Griffiths has a
future at the club he joined just three months ago.
“On the pitch he’s delivered and I think there’s more to come from him as well,” said Lennon yesterday, while making first public comments on the player since Griffiths was charged for a second time by the Scottish Football Association for singing an offensive song before last month’s Edinburgh derby. “I think we’ll see the best of him next season.”
Lennon issued a challenge to himself to get the 23-year-old player “on the straight and narrow” and hinted at underlying issues that were hampering Griffiths’ attempts to settle at the club he joined from Wolverhampton Wanderers in a reported £1 million deal in January. Although he has scored six goals in ten games, his off-the-field life has progressed less smoothly.
An assault charge against him dating back to last year was deserted in Edinburgh on Thursday. However, Police Scotland are currently investigating video footage of the Celtic striker allegedly singing an offensive song about Rudi Skacel, the former Hearts striker, before the recent Hearts v Hibs league fixture at Tynecastle.
Griffiths, who grew up a Hibs supporter and played for the Easter Road club, has been charged by the SFA after being accused of “singing in public a song of an offensive, racist and/or discriminatory nature”.
The SFA had already brought a charge against Griffiths when footage from the same day emerged of him singing a song about Hearts being in administration. The notice of complaint accused him of not acting in the best interests of football. In footage later made public, Griffiths is alleged to have sung a song in a bar which referred to Skacel as a “refugee”. Griffiths is due to appear at Hampden Park on Thursday to answer all charges.
Celtic, too, have launched their own independent inquiry, which comes after Lennon’s own comments, dating back to 2012, where he stressed he had a “zero tolerance rule” to instances of discrimination in any form. Lennon yesterday said he stood by these comments. The manager also confirmed that Griffiths is in the squad to face Motherwell this afternoon at Fir Park, with the police investigation still on-going. He also insists that Griffiths will still be a Celtic player next season. However, Lennon did acknowledge that the player “has some issues he needs to address”, adding: “I had a full, frank, open chat with him a few weeks ago and he knows we and I will be fully supportive of him to get these things right. But it’s down to Leigh to want to get them right and I think he does.
“I think he’s a bit daft but there are other issues that have a serious connotation to them and are obviously very private and personal. We’ll help him as much as we can. It’s a police investigation and we’ve got our own club investigation too. They will run parallel and we’ll be guided by the police. The kid has a few issues that we need to attend to and we will do.
“As far as his football goes, there’s a lot more to come from him,” he added. “But his life away from football needs to be addressed.
“It’s difficult to interfere as you end up playing God with them sometimes. You can’t run their life for them away from the park. But you have to make them aware of their responsibilities. I think if he didn’t know what it was like to be in Glasgow he certainly does now.”
Lennon conceded that the incident had taken its toll on the player, whose demeanour in recent days has betrayed his feelings. Lennon described him as “chastened”. Asked to expand on this, he added: “I think he’s very disappointed and upset. The head has been down for a week or so. That’s what I mean by a chastening experience.
“I’m not saying he’s [normally] loud-mouthed or gregarious,” he added. “In fact, his personality is actually very quiet but, obviously, he gets in with a different crowd and maybe gets influenced by them. He needs to learn to stay away from that. On the pitch, he’s delivered and I think there’s more to come from him as well. I think we’ll see the best of him next season.
“You have to take each individual’s problems on their merits and Leigh is no different from the rest. We will manage him and get him on the straight and narrow, as it were. He’s not a bad boy. He’s all right, just a bit easily influenced. He is reactive rather than being able to take a step back, but then that comes with maturity as well.”
Regarding Griffiths’ decision to attend the match in question and sit in a very public place behind a goal at the away end of Tynecastle stadium, Lennon said he had not changed his view – this was a serious error in judgement from the player. “I didn’t know he was going,” said Lennon. “I’d much prefer if he was sitting in a box. I don’t want him in with other supporters. I’d say that to any of my players. It can be volatile, no matter where you go. I know that from my own experience.”