Leigh Griffiths grabs Celtic narrative ahead of pivotal moment for new boss Ange Postecoglou
“There are legendary eastern cat gods shaking their heads in disbelief at the number of lives this guy has,” it read. The average feline is supposed to have nine. The possibility that the 30-year-old striker could feature against Midtjylland on Tuesday night suggests, in the context of his Parkhead career, Griffiths is on to his 99th life.
It is understandable that there has been no end of moralising over Ange Postecoglou’s decision to return the player from the exile he placed him in following an investigation over allegations he had sent inappropriate online messages. The claims led to Griffiths being sent home from the club’s Welsh training camp two weeks ago as Police Scotland did their work. Last week, that concluded with the force stating that, following a “full assessment”, “it’s been established there has been no criminality”.
However, few expected that to be the end of the story for Griffiths. Instead the expectation was that this latest desperate episode – one of countless across his seven seasons at Celtic – would mark the end of the line for him at the club, irrespective of the forward having signed a one-year contract extension only at the beginning of this month.
Morality in football, though, is a subjective concept. Manchester City full-back Kyle Walker was last week named in the Euro 2020 team of the tournament. It is only 16 months since Walker was forced to apologise after The Sun alleged that he broke the law during the then full lockdown by paying two sex workers to attend a gathering at his home with a friend.
Postecoglou, who takes charge of Celtic for the first time competitively on Tuesday when Danish outfit Midtjylland visit Glasgow in the first leg of the Champions League second qualifying round, has taken a highly controversial line in restoring Griffiths to his squad. Yet, he would maintain this does not imply any downplaying of the accusations levelled at the player. Naturally, it can only be pondered whether he would have taken the same course of action had Celtic three fit, firing and settled strikers to select beyond Griffiths…
Asked if he spoken to the Scotland international about the matter, and whether it was a big decision for him to name him in the squad following such a serious matter, the Celtic manager said: “Absolutely, it was a serious thing. And because it was a serious thing that’s why I left the people who are responsible for that side of things deal with it.
“My role is that I’m football manager of this football club. I have responsibilities and a care for the people who are part of this football club. I had a team to prepare and Leigh wasn’t part of that while it [the investigation] was happening. But he’s now come back in and for me we move on from it.
“It’s pretty simple, and as I said to Leigh as I have said to all the players at the outset, the expectations and standards in terms of what I expect are pretty clear. And if people fall short of them then it doesn’t matter who it is, they’ll be dealt with. What that means depends on what happens. But once it’s been dealt with we move on.
“As I’ve said, I’ve given him an opportunity to contribute to our season ahead and he’s now in the building, he’s training, with the opportunity to do that.
“Beyond that, the rest is up to him.”
Postecoglou stated Griffiths was sent home from Wales because “I didn’t want any distractions when we were doing the camp” and while “the authorities took control” of the “incident”. However, with Griffiths having been returned to the fold for the Midtjylland tie, it could be argued the Celtic manager has allowed for an even greater distraction at a far more crucial juncture, on the eve of one of the defining games of the Greek-Australian’s debut campaign.
The reverberations over it extend to the responsibilities that now fall on to newly-named club captain Callum McGregor, handed the role on a permanent basis.
The midfielder acknowledges that Griffiths really does have to recognise he really is in the last, last chance saloon. “I think he’s probably at that moment now,” said McGregor when it was put to him it was surely now or never for the penny dropping for Griffiths. “Everything has been dealt with from the club’s side of things, and I’ve said to him what I’ll say to you, football has to be his sole focus. That is what he is paid to do, he’s paid to come in and give everything for the club.
“When you are in this moment of transition as a club, we need everyone pushing in the right direction, and Leigh is no different to that as well. We draw a line under it, we move on, and we look forward to the game tomorrow night and then take it from there.
“It’s about him now coming in, putting his head down, taking all of the other distractions out of his life and purely focusing on his football. I’ve said it a million times, he’s a top player. When he’s fit and firing, he is such a huge asset. It’s time for Leigh to really knuckle down and get back to enjoying his football and that being the sole focus for him. If he does that, I’ve got no doubt he will be a huge asset to the club.”