Aberdeen passed up the chance to sign Leigh Griffiths when the Scotland striker was still at Wolves, according to a new book on the Pittodrie club.
The decision not to sign the player, as explained in Bryan Cooney’s Stand By Your Reds: An uncompromising history of the Dandy Dons, was down to manager Craig Brown receiving a couple of poor references on the player from colleagues who’d previously worked with the striker.
At the time, Griffiths had already fostered a reputation as a fearsome goalscorer, netting regularly for Livingston and Dundee, though someone who came with a certain amount of off-field baggage.
This didn’t stop Wolves from signing him in January 2011, though he was restricted to the role of reserve team player. At the same time, Brown was looking for a striker to compliment Scott Vernon, who netted nine goals in the 2010/11 SPL season.
Wolves boss Mick McCarthy was keen for the player to go out on loan, but preferred not to send him back to Edinburgh, his home town. With no English club calling, Aberdeen was the desired destination.
Darren Jackson, Griffiths’ agent, was pushing for his client to make the move north, but Brown wanted to enquire about the player first.
While assistant manager Archie Knox was enthused by the idea, Brown wanted a second opinion, so asked goalkeeping coach Jim Leighton, who’d worked with the player at international level.
Cooney writes: “Leighton almost shuddered as he related one particular anecdote: Griffiths’ rambunctious past was about to confront him.
“Trying to give the striker the benefit of a wisdom derived from 91 Scotland caps (including 45 clean sheers) and halcyon periods at both Aberdeen and Manchester United, Leighton claimed he’d attempted to impart one particular pearl concerning one-on-one situations.
“He advised Griffiths to renounce the daredevil option, and instead put the ball across the goalie rather than attempt to beat him at his near post. The striker’s alleged response didn’t encourage further equable dialogue. ‘You shut the f*** up! You’re [just] the goalkeeping coach!’
“Leighton confided that had it not been for a hamstring injury he was carrying at the time, he would have returned this insolent pup to the boarding kennels. ‘I’d have smashed him,’ he reportedly said.”
Brown, though, was still said to be conflicted. While he didn’t like the sound of having Griffiths on the training ground, he wanted, even needed, Griffiths the goalscorer. So he sought a third opinion, turning to forwards coach Jocky Scott, who’d managed Griffiths at Dundee.
Cooney continues: “His opening gambit was spectacular enough: touching Griffiths with a bargepole might even be considered unacceptable, he suggested.
“Brown, reasoning that high principles are not always appropriate when the devil drives, threw the dice one more time: he asked Scott if he believed he and Archie Knox could manage him. The response was empathic. ‘Nobody could manage that b*****d!’”
In the end, Hibs ended up signing the player on loan. After an inconsistent first season he rejoined the Easter Road club for a second loan spell and would go on to score 28 goals in all competitions and be named both the football writers’ and SPL player of the year.
• Stand By Your Reds, published by Luath Press Ltd, is available to purchase now.