Having picked up the Player of the Year award from his fellow professionals after a 39-goal campaign that gives him an outside chance of chasing down a four-decade record for top-flight goals in a season, Leigh Griffiths would be entitled to feel he could be living off the fat of the land for a long time coming. Instead, the Celtic striker is prepared for the possibility of ploughing his way through lean times.
The 25-year-old will find himself working under a new manager when he returns to the Parkhead club after the summer – just as he did two years ago when the now outgoing Ronny Deila was appointed. What followed back in 2014 was Griffiths disappearing from view, many thought permanently. A banishment that came despite the striker having ended the previous season in the team under Neil Lennon following his £850,000 move from Wolverhampton Wanderers that January.
Griffiths is not discounting a new Celtic manager ditching him in Deila fashion. The player, though, is confident of engineering the same resolution as he has enjoyed under the Norwegian.
“I’m not going to be too downhearted if the new manager comes in and doesn’t fancy me at first because I know when Ronny came in I had to wait my turn. I had to wait five months for my chance and after that I never looked back,” he said.
“If the new manager comes in and doesn’t fancy me at first I’ll keep my head down and work hard to pave a way back into the team.
“Ultimately [whether I’m back to square one next season] is up to the [new] manager. My goals are on show from the past 18 months, but if he wants to bring another striker into the squad he thinks is better than me I’ll work hard on the training pitch to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“My career has been based on scoring goals and I’ve scored goals wherever I’ve gone. I’m thriving at the minute and want to keep that going. The season’s going to come to an end but I don’t want it to. Hopefully, we are not off for too long and I can carry my form for the season into the two friendlies for Scotland, if I get the nod, and I can come back and fire Celtic into the Champions League.”
It is Griffiths’ “ultimate aim” to be “bettering” himself next season leading the line in club football’s most prestigious tournament and for his country in their World Cup qualifiers. In common with 18-year-old defender Kieran Tierney, the forward considers all his ambitions can be met in his current environment.
“I signed a five-year deal in December and I wouldn’t have signed it if I wanted to move clubs,” Griffiths said. “I’ll be 30 when my contract ends. Kieran said if he could finish his career here he’d be happy, and if I could finish mine here I’d be happy too. Why would you want to leave Celtic? It’s one of the biggest clubs in the world.”
It is certainly big enough for some high-profile, high- calibre managers not presently in employment to offer up honeyed words about Celtic as an institution. Former Merseyside managers Brendan Rodgers and David Moyes have both bigged up Celtic sufficiently to give the impression that they could consider succeeding Deila. Griffiths hopes the pursuit of a new manager doesn’t drag on across the summer.
“Ultimately, when the new manager is appointed is the decision of the board but hopefully it’s done sooner rather than later so he can put his own ideas in place for the squad,” the striker said. “I’m sure all the top managers will want this job. Managers out there who aren’t in work will be licking their lips at the prospect of being interviewed for this job but, as a squad, we concentrate on what we have to do just now and we still need to go and finish Aberdeen off on Sunday – and then we can have fun.”
Griffiths’ fun – the PFA Scotland award presented to him by Gordon Strachan having “capped off a great season” – will be curbed before the official end of the Premiership campaign. A booking in the 3-1 win over Hearts last Saturday means he will be suspended for the final game of Celtic’s season on 15 May, when the club will host Motherwell before being presented with the league trophy.
As a result, the prospects of Griffiths, on 30 league goals, reaching or surpassing the Premier-era 35 total record jointly held by Henrik Larsson and Brian McClair, is now remote. Silverware celebrations over the club’s five-in-a-row title win won’t be dampened by this fact, or by his spectating role for the club’s last match.
“[Because of the suspension] I’ve only got two games to beat the record so that would have to be two hat-tricks. So the chances are slim,” Griffiths added. “I wish I wasn’t suspended for the final day but over the course of the season everyone has been in and out of the squad and I will be there cheering on the boys and then we will go and have a party.”