The Leigh Griffiths conundrum for Celtic and Scotland that could see momentous moments pass him by
It is impossible not to marvel at the Celtic striker’s supernatural goal-sniffing. Equally, though, it is impossible not to fear the permanence with which these virtues are being buried by an incapacity to meet the game’s physical requirements.
Sunday was a bitter day for all of a Celtic disposition. In the case of Griffiths, that extended beyond the nine-title run ending. The day marked a full year since the 30-year-old last completed a competitive 90 minutes - that occasion the final game before the first lockdown wherein he just happened to plunder a hat-trick in a 5-0 win over St Mirren.
Furthermore, as Celtic spurned a hatful of chances against Dundee United the other day, it ought to have disturbed Griffiths that interim manager John Kennedy waited until the 84th minute to throw on his most lethal forward. Or that this was the first time he had deigned to use him across his two games in charge since assuming control following Neil Lennon’s departure. Indeed, over Celtic’s past eight games, Griffiths has only racked up 70 minutes.
The player will say he can’t be match fit without starting games, but patently two managers have decided he isn’t sharp enough to be doing that. It is a vicious circle, but one Griffiths has been trapped in for years. He has had mental health issues and calf problems over the past three seasons, but it remains extraordinary he has completed only eight full 90 minutes in that time. Three managers, Brendan Rodgers the first, have now arrived at the conclusion that, whether it may be body or mind, Griffiths is incapable of preparing himself as required to deal regularly with the game’s rigours.
No-one doubts his goalscoring prowess. Neither should they. Even in the past eight months, when, he has been a bit-part player but for a run across the turn of the year, he has netted seven times at a rate of a goal every 106 minutes. A measure of his extraordinary natural finishing abilities.
The predicament in which Griffiths now finds himself could have the gravest consequences. It is difficult to see how Steve Clarke could consider naming him in the Scotland squad he will announce next Tuesday for the opening World Cup qualifiers to be contested at the end of the month. That would place in jeopardy his chances of making Clarke’s pool for a Euros that will be the country’s first finals appearance in 23 years, since it must be assumed his game-time at club level will remain underwhelming over the next two months.
The repercussions of his bench-warming could be agonising. Griffiths is only 11 goals short of becoming the first Celtic player since Henrik Larsson in 2001 to hit 100 league goals; and the first Scot to do so since Kenny Dalglish completed the feat in 1976. No-one else has entered the 100-league goal club at Celtic in the past 45 years, but there must now be serious questions as to whether Griffiths will gain entry. The next permanent Celtic manager appointed by the club in the summer will be alert to the trust issue so long attached to his physical prowess. That can only spell trouble for Griffiths’ long-term Celtic future.
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