Leigh Griffiths gives up holiday to be fit for Celtic’s early start

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Not for Leigh Griffiths a fortnight lying on his back in sunny climes, refreshing himself for the new season. The Celtic striker elected to forgo
a holiday in a bid to prepare himself for the forthcoming personal challenges that have been made all the greater by last week’s permanent signing of French forward Odsonne Edouard, pictured, in a club record 
£9 million deal.

Griffiths, 27, did find himself stretching out in the aftermath of Brendan Rodgers’ men claiming the double treble a month ago – on an operating theatre as he underwent a “tidy-up” hernia operation. After a short period of recuperation, he then began gym work in advance of a full pre-season programme with the rest of the squad this week.

Leigh Griffiths models the new Celtic away kit. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

Leigh Griffiths models the new Celtic away kit. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

The Scotland international doesn’t dwell on the possibility of finding himself third choice behind Moussa Dembele and Edouard in the jostle for the central striker’s role. The focus for Griffiths presently is avoiding the fitness issues that dogged him and diminished his game time last season. He has no concern over the fact that his remedy for them amounted to an entirely atypical footballer’s summer break.

“I had a decent rest,” he said. “I gave myself plenty of rest time and I spent a lot of time with my kids. I’m a home bird anyway. I like being around my family and kids. It’s difficult enough to take them out of school and away. But I feel I’ve had a decent enough break and I’m ready for the new season.

“The injuries last season were frustrating in keeping me out. I hope I am injury free now and I get a good pre-season under my belt and come through it with flying colours. Whoever starts the season will have a dip at some stage and when that happens you need to take your chance when you can get it. You want competition for places. It isn’t just strikers who have competition, it is everyone. Odsonne is a great addition to the squad. We have seen his qualities, especially in the second half of the season.”

A calf problem seemed to stymie Griffiths at various points over the past two years but he maintains that was addressed successfully even before the last campaign ended.

“It was to do with my hip muscles blocking my full range of movement,” he said. “As soon as that got released I’ve not felt anything in my calf. I got deep tissue massage and I’ve worked in the gym and done pre-hab before and again after training. The muscles that weren’t working properly are working properly now and I’ve now been injury free since the second week in March. Hopefully that keeps going. I am fit and ready.”

A heavy physical toll will be placed on Celtic players the moment they step back on to the pitch for their first game of the new campaign. They have been handed an awkward trip to Armenian capital Yerevan for the opening leg of their first qualifying round Champions League tie on 11 July. Opponents Alashkert have no great European pedigree but they will benefit from moving the game to the 16,000-capacity Republican Stadium, giving free entry and the fact that the encounter is likely to be played in 35-degree heat.

Rodgers’ side are seeking to become the first Scottish side to qualify for the Champions League in three consecutive seasons. Gordon Strachan’s Celtic played in the competition every season between 2006-07 and 2008-09, but in the latter campaign they had the luxury of direct entry into the group stage.

Four qualifying rounds require to be negotiated this year. Rosenborg, beaten by Celtic in the qualifiers last year, are likely to lie in wait in the second of these should the Scottish champions prevail over Alashkert. Whatever the obstacles, Griffiths believes recent experiences demonstrate he is part of a team capable of surmounting them.

“If we go through that one then we know that Rosenborg – if they get through – will be tough,” he said. “It seems like we always get thrown a difficult tie, whether it be the qualifying or the group stage.

“If it is so hot in Armenia, Broony [Scott Brown] will need the factor 50 on his head. But we will just need to adapt to the conditions. It is a two-legged affair so the first leg is important but we know that we are coming back to Celtic Park [the following midweek] and the crowd behind us always gives us a boost.

“It is difficult getting through three ties, let alone four. But as players we just need to take it on the chin and get on with the job in hand. In Scotland, we aren’t used to the intense heat but it is just about the performance on the night and sometimes it isn’t good enough. Thankfully nine times out of ten we get we get them back at Celtic Park and get the job done. Gibraltar [two years ago] would be up there for hardest conditions. I know no-one wants to remember that night [Celtic lost 1-0 to Lincoln Red Imps] but that was up there – the conditions, the heat, the pitch. Everything went against us. We have been to Kazakhstan, we have been to Israel and it is difficult conditions. But as players we just need to put in performances and get the job done.”

One job that Griffiths feels is close to being done is reaching agreement on a new contract. His current deal runs until 2021 but he is itching to commit himself further.

“We are inching further forward on that,” he said. “It’s getting closer and there’s not far to go. We are about 85 per cent done. There’s just a couple of tweaks needed and then it will be done. I see my best years at Celtic. I’d like to get to 100 goals. If I don’t get to that mark next season then I may as well quit football. I need two goals but it feels like I’ve not had the chance to get there but this season that lies ahead I’m sure I will get there.

“It wouldn’t be a weight off my mind as I’ve still got two and a bit years on my current deal. But the fact that they are even talking about a new contract gives me joy and delight that I am going to be here for basically the rest of my career. When it does get done and signed I will be delighted.”

Griffiths has been enjoying the World Cup, particularly the stupendous free-kick from Cristiano Ronaldo which brought up his hat-trick in the epic 3-3 draw with Spain.

“He’s obviously been watching my free-kicks on YouTube,” Griffiths offered in jest.