LEIGH GRIFFITHS will be handed the chance to resurrect his international career when Scotland Under-21s take on Luxembourg in Paisley tonight – and Craig Paterson reckons the sky could be the limit for the Hibs striker if he puts his mind to it.
The 22-year-old was disappointed to be left out of the four previous Under-21 squads announced by Billy Stark and admitted himself that he thought his Scotland career at that level was over. But, following an impressive start to the season, he has been given a welcome recall to the pool of players for the European Under-21 Championship qualifying double-header against Luxembourg in Paisley tonight and then away to Austria on Monday night. He has knuckled down since his return to Easter Road on loan from Wolves at the beginning of the season and his displays in green and white have even prompted manager Pat Fenlon to tip him for a shot at the full international squad.
Paterson also reckons the player has the quality to make it to the very top in the game and believes that moving to Hibs was one of the best things that could have happened to Griffiths. Alluding to the off-field problems which have plagued the striker in recent seasons, Paterson feels Griffiths’ career is now benefiting from a new-found maturity. He said: “It’s unfortunate with the websites and different things that they have these days. In the past, people didn’t have to worry about anything but, with camera phones and the like, players nowadays have to realise the position that they are in and that people look up to you.
“As a young footballer, everything you do will be magnified and you have got to make sure that you don’t put yourself in a situation where you could end up on the front pages of the newspapers. Coming to Hibs has been good for him, not only because of the fact that he is getting regular football.
“If he had stayed where he was then you could have been talking about him wasting two of three years of his career. He seems to have found a bit more maturity and swapped making the wrong kind of headlines for the backpage headlines. I know he had a couple of things happening off the pitch last year but the fans love him at Hibs and they have really given him their support. What a help it is if the fans are right behind you. Now he is a year older and wiser and it looks like he has taken a lot of different things on board. If you apply yourself at the age he is now, then the sky is the limit.”
The former Hibs defender and radio pundit revealed that he always believed Griffiths had something special and that, now, he must continue to learn from the more experienced professionals around him.
Paterson continued: “Even when I think back to when I first saw him playing for Dundee and Livingston, there was always a spark about him. Every time he got the ball, you got the impression that something might happen. From 35 yards in, he has been known to find the net and he’s an exciting player to have in your team, there’s no doubt about that.
“I think people sometimes forget how young he still is. He came onto the scene at an early age and, when that happens, people expect you just to go onwards and upwards all the way.
“It’s amazing how little you know about the professional game and sometimes how much you learn about it is down to the experienced players you have around you. You have to know who to listen to and how to put that into practice. People sometimes think you just have to give someone the ball and you can go and play but there is a lot more to it than that. For younger players it’s about doing it on a regular basis because when you mature you tend to find a bit of consistency.”
Paterson knows that Griffiths will be determined to prove his worth to Stark tonight and is hoping to see the player continue in the rich vein of form that he has started the current season with.
His three goals, including a double against St Mirren, are a sign of what could be to come this season, and Paterson added: “Obviously he will be looking to be a bit more consistent and his goals will help.
“That has got to be his aim. The type of player that he is, if he doesn’t start, he would be handy on the bench.
“I think that, right now, he would impress any manager with his confidence and ability. I’m sure Billy Stark will be getting reports back every week and if he keeps applying himself then he will have himself a very successful career at all levels.”