LEIGH Griffiths should accept that he may be best suited to the SPL rather than seeking a return to England, according to John Robertson.
The striker’s loan period from Wolves to Hibernian runs out in January and the English club have said they will not extend it again. They want £150,000 for the man who is currently the top scorer in the league, and that has led to speculation that Hibs could lose Griffiths.
But yesterday Robertson, who himself had an unsuccessful time at Newcastle before returning to Hearts, said that Griffiths’ natural ability might be stifled by the phsyicality of English football. “I signed Leigh for Livingston as a 16-year-old and he has never changed,” he said. “He’s one of the most natural goalscorers you will ever find.
“Up until Wednesday night he seemed to have quietened himself down a bit then he gets involved in a wee Leigh Griffiths-style spat. But that is always going to be there, bubbling away underneath. The kind of player he is.
“He’s a matchwinner, it’s as simple and straightforward as that. Any manager will tell you, you want as many matchwinners in your side as possible.
“The level he’s at now is the level he may want to concentrate on. Speaking from my own experience and Ally McCoist’s experience, he will not be the first striker to go down to England and be perceived to have failed.
“The problem Leigh has got, similar to myself, is that, when you go to England – even in League One – you will find that everyone is much bigger, stronger, quicker, much more physical. And given Leigh’s build he is probably more suited to the SPL in Scotland, just as I was.
“In England as a striker you have got to be very special if you are Leigh’s build. If Wolves don’t fancy him for whatever reason then he may well find himself up the road.”
Griffiths himself said last season that he would be happy to play for Hibs all his career, and Robertson thinks there are times when his support for the Easter Road club has led to his being carried away. But, looking ahead to Sunday’s Edinburgh derby in the Scottish Cup, the ex-Hearts player and manager said that the 22-year-old had matured and was now more capable of keeping his emotions under control.
“Listen, Leigh is Hibs-daft. He loves and supports Hibs, and has always wanted to play for them. In the early days, he maybe let himself get carried away about that.
“He’s not the first player. Derek Riordan was very similar, and you’ve seen Ian Murray do similar things. But that’s just love of the club – there’s nothing wrong with that.
“I think Pat Fenlon has kept chipping away at him, two or three suspensions, two or three fines, he has come back and someone has had a word with him: just concenrate on football. When he does that he’s as good as any striker in the SPL.
“When he came in [at Livingston] he wouldn’t be on University Challenge any time soon, but just a lovely lad. He came in, trained hard, had this natural ability to score goals.
“What I loved about him was he would try outrageous things, think he is going to cross it then next thing he is slewing it into the top corner. He reminded me in stature, with the blonde white hair and mohican, of a young Derek Riordan. The ability to do the unexpected and score wonder goals but also score the goals that everyone scores. The only issue we had was trying to get him into the first team as quickly as we could.”
Robertson said that, if forced to predict an outcome, he thinks that Hearts will win the fourth-round tie after a replay. He knows his old team have had problems scoring goals this season, but thinks their greater physical threat could be critical.
“The team that started against Celtic on Wednesday night only had two guys who had scored goals in the SPL, and that was Marius Zaliukas and Callum Paterson. If you look at the game they probably had their two best chances.
“They’re not scoring a lot of goals but, up to last night, they weren’t conceding a lot of goals. It’s a tough year for them, but they have got experienced players in there.
“In the build-up to the cup final last season, Hearts weren’t scoring loads of goals – but they did when it counted. They don’t have the same firepower this season but, if you give cheap free-kicks away, then Hearts are a big side who can cause problems at set-plays, as they showed against Celtic, who are the biggest team in SPL.
“That might be the route Hearts take. We all know to expect the unexpected.”