As Scotland’s most prized club performers are days away from going into the nation’s first major finals in 23 years, the most naturally-gifted finisher the country has produced across the past two decades hasn’t a clue where he is headed. The 30-year-old is in limbo; not knowing if what lies immediately in front of him will be an end followed by a beginning, or the opportunity of some sort of fresh start.
His Celtic future is presently cloaked entirely in the unknown. Effectively, with the Parkhead club having yet to decide whether to a year’s option tied to the end of a now concluded three-year deal he signed in September 2018, he can be considered a free agent. But essentially that might be in name only, and not the catalyst for Hibs and Aberdeen to make serious overtures for his signature. In the closing days as interim manager, John Kennedy stated it would be down to the new Celtic manager to decide on whether Griffiths extended his stay in Glasgow beyond the six-and-a-half years in which he has experienced outrageous triumphs and tumult. With Ange Postecoglou expected to be confirmed in the managerial position in the coming days, what is next for Griffiths could remain unresolved into next week, at the earliest.
Four years ago today ...
There is particular piquancy to it appearing that the player seems far from a prized asset at this very juncture; and was rendered so disposable by meagre club game-time in recent months that Steve Clarke overlooked him as even a wildcard pick for one the four striker slots in his 26-man Euro 2020 squad. That is so because the date of June 10 will be forever considered the zenith of Griffiths’ career. It was that day four years ago he conjured up his fantastical free-kick last-gasp double on an unforgettable afternoon at Hampden when Scotland came within seconds of a famous win over England.
A lazy narrative has taken root subsequent to his electrifying efforts in that 2-2 draw. It amounts to taking the national-hero status then earned – which will ensure he forever features in compendiums of Scotland’s most celebrated moments – and using it as the start point to plot his downward spiral to his potential zero status now, at least in a Celtic context. The truth, though, is that by that day his club career was already on the downturn, while he served Scotland with equal distinction in the months that followed. His pristine finish away to Serbia in Gordon Strachan side’s closing World Cup qualifier in October 2017 really ought to have laid the groundwork for the win required to reach the 2018 finals. It didn’t, with the 2-2 draw bringing an end to Strachan’s time in charge and Griffiths’ first pick status for his country. The latter was the consequence of the forward not enjoying such a standing at Celtic right back to the early months of Brendan Rodgers tenure at the club. Griffiths, for all that injuries and temperament appear to have eroded his capacity to meet the physical demands of his profession, is unfortunate that circumstances haven’t played in his favour across what should have been his peak years. Circumstances, it should be said, beyond the depression that forced him to step away from the game for a length period in the 2018-19 season.
The French duo
The capture of Moussa Dembele by Rodgers on his arrival in the summer of 2016, meant a genuinely world class striker blocked Griffiths’ path to regular starts for two years. And when that Frenchman departed in August 2018, Griffiths found another possessing similarly dazzling abilities restricting his opportunities Odsonne Edouard. It is hard to envisage when Celtic again will be blessed with such a high level striker changeover. Yet, even if Griffiths has completed only eight full 90 minutes at club level in the past three years, with Edouard currently in the Celtic departure lounge there could just be another chapter to write in a stellar career at Parkhead. A stint in which his supernatural scoring scent has earned him 14 major honours – only 13 players in the club’s history have bagged more – and allowed him to become only the 29th player to break the 100-goal mark. Indeed, after becoming the solitary such Celtic centurion in the past 15 years, his 123-goal total means he ranks 17th on the all-time list.
A return to Hibs?
These numbers will ensure that he can expect a return to his beloved Hibs should Postecoglou deem him surplus to requirements. The 55-year-old Australian and the Parkhead club might not necessarily believe that point is now, though. It is believed that Griffiths’ last contract placed him on a basic in the £16,000-to-£18,000-a-week bracket. There is no prospect of him earning such a wage again in Scotland. However, with the Celtic squad so thin and the possibility Edouard won’t be retained even as far as Postecoglou’s first game – which will see his new club face one of Rapid Vienna, Galatasaray or FC Midtjylland in the third qualifying round of the Champions League in six weeks’ time – having Griffiths still around on reduced terms could be how the player’s current situation pans out. Celtic could offer him a one-year deal on only a third of his last terms and this would still represent a salary too rich for Hibs, or other interested club Aberdeen.
The problem for Griffiths could be the playing demands of Postecoglou. Known to be an adherent of a high-intensity, pressing brand of football in which he deploys one central striker, the new Celtic manager might question whether Griffiths is capable of performing that role. He did so in the 2015-16 campaign, though, and it led to him plundering just the 40 goals, mind. It is from that point that the likeable Leither’s career has never quite been the same again.