Leigh Griffiths targets Champions League with Celtic

Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths knows that he will need to produce something special to top the 40-goal tally he racked up last season.
Celtic's Leigh Griffiths, pictured launching season tickets, wants to play in the group stage of the Champions League. Picture: SNSCeltic's Leigh Griffiths, pictured launching season tickets, wants to play in the group stage of the Champions League. Picture: SNS
Celtic's Leigh Griffiths, pictured launching season tickets, wants to play in the group stage of the Champions League. Picture: SNS

Henrik Larsson was the last player to score more than 40 times in consecutive campaigns (2002/03 and 2003/04) but Griffiths insists that there is more than one way in which to measure a striker’s improvement and worth.

The Golden Shoe is awarded each year to European football’s leading marksman but does not simply go the player who has found the net most often. Rather, the leagues are split into three separate groups according to strength, with goals notched in La Liga consequently worth twice as much as ones recorded in the Scottish Premiership.

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By the same token, Griffiths argues that, if he can score in the Champions League group stage and Scotland’s World Cup qualifiers, he will be content with the progress he has made, whatever his final total.

First, though, he is anxious simply to reach the group stage of club football’s most lucrative and prestigious competition.

“You don’t really make it as a player unless you’ve played in the Champions League,” said the 25-year-old. “The closest I’ve been is the Malmo game last year where we were very, very close.

“Hopefully, this time we can go one stage further and manage to get into that group stage. I’ve been to a couple of big European nights at Parkhead.

“I was at the one where Celtic beat Barcelona 2-1 a few years ago and also when they drew 1-1 with Manchester United. These are games that stick out in the mind.

“You’ve heard players from teams like Barcelona and AC Milan, guys who have played in the Champions League for many years, saying that this stadium is the one that sticks out for atmosphere. I want to experience that first-hand as a player.”

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan has done his best to maximise his prospects of fulfilling his ambition by leaving the forward, Scott Brown, Kieran Tierney and Craig Gordon out of his squad for the challenge matches against Italy and France so that they would be rested and ready for the European challenge which awaits.

“The lads who joined up with the Scotland squad after the last game of the season only had six days off and then you’re back training again, flying, training, playing, flying again, playing again and then flying home,” said Griffiths.

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“If we’d been selected for that squad we’d have got back home on June 5. Even allowing for the fact that Charlie Mulgrew will be given an extra few days off he’ll still need to report back on June 26.

“So we wouldn’t have been given much time off – we don’t have much of a break anyway – and it’s been nice to have a rest, get away and recharge the batteries while keeping ourselves ticking over.

“The manager [Strachan] spoke to Broonie and he said he was going to leave a few of us out so we could properly prepare for the Champions League qualifiers.

“That’s where we want to be ultimately and he knows, from personal experience, what that’s all about.”

Griffiths has been keeping himself ticking over, anxious to impress new manager Brendan Rodgers.

“Pre-season training is going to be particularly important this year,” he said. “Once we get our fitness levels back up it’ll all be about getting used to the new style of play and how he wants us to go about things.

“It’s going to be very interesting to see what that will be like. Obviously, we’ll be going on a pre-season tour and, when we come back, we have the European ties and the two big friendlies to look forward to.

“The next step for me is to play in the Champions League and to become a regular for the national team. I need to score at that level and I can’t do that if I’m not there.

“Obviously, I must keep playing well and scoring in big games for Celtic if I’m going to be involved with Scotland.”