TWO developments stood out from Celtic’s transfer window activity. Leigh Griffiths became the first Scot-by-upbringing signed to go straight into the club’s senior side since Shaun Maloney six years ago.
Griffiths, following his £800,000 move from Wolverhampton Wanderers on deadline day, provided another first for Neil Lennon. Never before in his near four years in charge, has the Irishman’s plans for a new arrival included a polite request for him to close down his Twitter account.
“He [Griffiths] has a bigger responsibility now and he can’t be getting involved in spats with members of the public, however the abuse comes or however difficult it may seem to back away,” said Lennon, who closed down his own Twitter account only two months ago. “He’s going to have to learn to do that. It’s not an easy thing to do but it is part of his responsibility of being a Celtic player now.”
The 23-year-old Leither, in part relating to the airport carousel worth of baggage the goalscorer brings with him, is Celtic’s highest-profile purchase – even in costing less than half of that paid to Strømsgodset to capture the signature of Stefan Johansen. The Norwegian is effectively a replacement for Joe Ledley, who joined Crystal Palace for a fee of around £800,000 in the minutes before the window closed on Friday night. With Mo Bangura having his contract cancelled just ahead of Griffiths putting pen to paper, Celtic’s squad numbers and squad strength must be considered much the same as before the recent transfer period. Young Icelandic striker Holmbert Fridjonsson was the only other addition.
“It’s not been too bad, but frustrating with a couple,” Lennon said of the month, the frustration borne out of Ledley’s decision not to extend his contract and a high-end deal for a Turkish forward collapsing in the final days. “Our intentions were clear, we were prepared to have a go at things this window. I’m satisfied with the efforts we’ve made to try to improve the squad. It doesn’t stop now. We’ll go out in February and March to target players for the summer, and we’ll try to get them in early like we did with [Amido] Balde and [Virgil] Van Dijk, ready for the [Champions League] qualifiers. We’re definitely still looking to add to the squad.”
It is all about timing and catching players on their way up. On Friday Fulham signed Greek striker Konstantinos Mitroglou from Olympiakos for £12 million. In the summer Celtic had a £4m bid for the player rejected. In retrospect, quite rightly. “Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about that,” said Lennon. “He’s gone on to have an unbelievable season, he’s scored loads of goals domestically and looks a good player in the Champions League. It doesn’t surprise me that he has had a big move.”
In Griffiths, current PFA and football writers’ player of the year and four-times capped at senior international level, there is the expectation that his big move will pay in goals. His record of 28 in 48 games for a rum Hibs side last season suggests that is a banker. In the on-field plans he has for the player, Celtic fans may be able to get used to their goal flurries of recent weeks, starting with this afternoon’s home game at St Mirren which will see them bidding to extend their season-long unbeaten league run to 23 games and their sequences of league shut-outs to a club-record 11 matches.
“At Hibs last year he played [up front] predominantly on his own and scored a lot of goals. He was really terrific. But we’ll probably play him with a partner as he beds in. There is not a natural partner for him in the players in our squad, but he can play with [Anthony] Stokes, he can play with [Teemu] Pukki, he can play with [Kris] Commons, and, if we need to throw a big one on, [Georgios] Samaras and Balde. I don’t have a specific double act, but I’d like to see him and Commons play together, to see how that works, because Commons is playing well, and the likes of [James] Forrest is playing well. Stokes has been good in a partnership, so we’ve plenty of flexibility and variation.
“The big question is whether we can we take him on in to Europe and I think we can. He’s got the game for it, although he’s got to improve on a few things. He needs to work on his upper body strength because he’s not the strongest, but he’s certainly lively and his movement is excellent. His work ethic on the pitch is terrific, he’s non-stop. He’s always sniffing things out, is a very good finisher, can finish with both feet and has really improved in the last couple of years.”
Unfortunately, Griffiths has proved masterful at sniffing out trouble, too. Which brought a backlash from Celtic supporters on social media to the signing. “There’s only a backlash because of some of the things away from football. If you look at his ability, I don’t think too many people could complain. We’ve bought a player for £800,000 who is a goalscorer and value for money. He has to turn people’s heads both on and off the field, and he’s ready to do that. Sometimes players get an unfair reputation. In his case, some of it is deserved and he’s going to have to toe the line, but some of it is over the top.”
There was no over-the-top reaction to the loss of Ledley. Recognised as a tidy performer across his three-and-a-half years but far from dazzling, the one man who might have been expected to get excited about his switch to Crystal Palace refused to do so. The main obstacle to Johansen occupying a left-sided midfield berth has been removed. But the 23-year-old Norwegian is, publicly at least, disappointed over the turn of events.
“For me it’s important to have good competition,” he said. “Every good team has competition in each position. I hoped that Ledley would not go, I think he’s a fantastic player and I thought I could learn from him in that he’s a left-footed, creative midfield player. Of course it is how football is that him going might mean more chances for me to play. People leave and people come and you’ve got to just take what you have and keep on working hard to get your place in the team.” Or for Lennon, keeping working hard to get the people you want in place in the team.