Leigh Griffiths desperate to return for Celtic and Scotland but fans warned not to expect too much, too soon

Scott Brown celebrates wtih Leigh Griffiths after the striker's glorious free-kick double against England in June 2017. Picture: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images
Scott Brown celebrates wtih Leigh Griffiths after the striker's glorious free-kick double against England in June 2017. Picture: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images
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As he pushes the door ever so slightly ajar on the possibility of his own comeback for Scotland, Scott Brown has also sought to temper expectations surrounding Leigh Griffiths’ status as a possible Euro 2020 saviour for the national team.

Brown’s own startling admission that he would never rule out another U-turn on his decision to retire from Scotland duty was certainly the headline-grabbing moment of his media duties ahead of a sell-out audience with Celtic supporters at the SEC Armadillo last night.

It certainly raises a question that Scotland manager Steve Clarke will feel bound to ask of the Celtic captain before the Euro 2020 play-offs in March.

Time will tell whether Brown is truly tempted to return to the international stage where, based on his current form for the Scottish champions, he unquestionably appears well equipped to flourish once again.

The situation surrounding his team-mate Griffiths, of course, is very different. There is no ambiguity over the striker’s desire to play for Scotland again but significant doubts remain over whether he can regain the levels of fitness necessary to do so.

The 29-year-old has not played for Scotland since September 2018, three months before he took time away from football altogether in order to address mental health issues.

Since rejoining the Celtic first-team squad, Griffiths has struggled to recover his optimum physical condition. He has not played for the first team since August but did return to action on Tuesday this week when he scored twice for Celtic’s reserve side in a 6-0 friendly win over Stenhousemuir.

Brown, a close friend as well as a colleague of Griffiths, is as eager as anyone to see him back to his best for both club and country but stresses he is still some way short of that goal.

“Leigh wants to play, he wants to play for Celtic,” said Brown. “It is hard for any professional footballer when you aren’t playing and you are injured. It is always going to be a hard thing.

“But he is dealing with it and he is coming back. It is just trying to make sure he is in the best condition he can possibly be in. He is in a good frame of mind just now. We need to make sure that once he is in training, he is scoring those goals and working as hard as everybody else and it isn’t all about scoring goals in the six-yard box.

“We need that whole play from him, whether it is him defending, working hard, closing down people as well as scoring those goals.

“We haven’t seen too much of him in training. We’ve had the international break and he’s been in doing bits and bobs. But he’s looking to get back in, he’s looking to get back to the fitness levels he had before and he’s going to have to play those bounce games, like he did this week, to make sure he gets his match fitness more than anything.

“From there, it is up to him and the manager how far he can push himself and if he can compete with Odsonne Edouard for a place in the team.

“There are people who have done cruciates and have been out for a long time and you know what it’s like when you come back. It’s similar for Leigh now. In the first couple of games you are always a bit rusty. That is why he is trying to get as many bounce games in now – so he is not that rusty when he comes into the first team.

“It would be a great boost for Scotland and a good boost for us at Celtic too. Everyone knows how good a player Leigh is but he needs to get back to the required fitness levels that he used to have.

“When he played for Scotland he was incredible. I enjoyed playing with him. You saw the way he played against England, those two free-kicks [in 2017’s 2-2 draw at Hampden]. It wasn’t just about the free-kicks, it was about how you control two centre-halves. We all know what his left foot can do anyway, we know he is going to put the ball in the back of the net but it’s just about making sure that he is as fit as he possibly can be.”

Brown, who always appears nerveless before big games for Celtic, 
confessed to a few butterflies ahead of his stage debut last night.

“It’s something I’ve never done before,” he said at the “An Evening With Broony” event. “It’s phenomenal managing to sell out the Armadillo, I wouldn’t have expected it in my wildest dreams.

“It’s hard speaking in front of a couple of hundred people, never mind 3,000 people.

“I came to the Armadillo to watch Annie Lennox [pictured left] in concert. I never realised how big it is.

“It’s incredible on a personal level to have 3,000 people coming along to see me.

“It’s entertaining playing in front of 60,000 fans, but it’s a different kind of nerves answering questions in front of 3,000.”