Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths has revealed that he wants a career framed by Champions League football and his image on the walls of Celtic Park after yesterday signing a five-and-a-half year contract.
The 25-year-old maintained that he was never tempted to chase a more lucrative deal down south.
Storing up memories and milestones at Celtic Park is greater motivation for the forward – five goals short of the 50 tally only 23 months on from moving to Glasgow from Wolverhampton Wanderers in a £1m deal. Griffiths’ early strike rate has eclipsed Gary Hooper, Scott McDonald and Henrik Larsson and he wants to become the first Celtic player to break the 200-goal mark since the Swede’s 242 haul.
“My next test is the Champions League,” said Griffiths. “That is where I think all the players want us to be, and all the fans want us to be. It was a disappointing European campaign this season but we have another chance to get there next season. And we want to make the group stages.
“If it is not your ambition to score goals at the highest level, then you shouldn’t really be playing football. Especially not at this club. European nights at Parkhead don’t get any bigger.”
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Experiences trump extravagant salary returns for the former Hibernian player. “The money doesn’t bother me. You could earn a lot down in England but you could be sitting on the sidelines or playing in reserves. I am happy being here at one of the biggest clubs in Britain. I am playing week in, week out, scoring goals and enjoying myself. I am playing well and making people happy – that is good enough for me.
“Do you think I am going to be signing a five-year deal if the money isn’t right to stay at Celtic !? It is a short career but I am happy playing for this club. If I invest my money wisely I will make a lot. Thankfully I have got a good team behind me who will advise me.
“People might say I am a Wolves reject and all that, but I went down there [till January] but at the end of the season was still joint top goalscorer and the league was won.
“I moved back for personal reasons, and going back down now didn’t really appeal.” added Griffiths. “When Celtic offered me a long-term deal, I just asked them where to sign.”
Griffiths had to work hard to win over Celtic manager Ronny Deila.
Amid concern over his diet and capacity for off-field controversies, he rarely featured in the first four months of the Deila tenure as John Guidetti and Stefan Scepovic moved above him in the pecking order.
Griffiths’ fortunes were transformed by his decision to play for the development side at Sunderland exactly one year ago to the day from his inking a long-term deal.
“He said to me there was a game and asked me if I wanted to play – he said I didn’t have to play if I didn’t want, there was training the next day with the first team boys and I could play in that. I said that, if I was going to be called upon, I wanted to be match sharp, fit and ready to go on and score goals.
“I went down, scored twice and helped the boys win. I haven’t looked back since.”
The turnaround has brought a remarkable 36 goals in 52 appearances.
It is ten years since John Hartson became the last player at the club to bag 100 goals, but Griffiths is setting his sights far higher, with Kris Commons 11 away from the three-figure goal tally.
“After I hit the 50-goal mark, I’ll be raring to go for the 100. Maybe I can get 200 with the way I’m going.
“If I keep hitting 20 goals a season, I’ll be happy,” said Griffiths, currently sitting on 19 goals for the campaign.
“It’s all about being fit, keeping going and playing well. I see pictures of Larsson, Hartson, [Chris] Sutton and from more recently of [Jan] Vennegoor of Hesselink and McDonald and when I finish my career and come back, I hope to walk around this place and see my picture up on the wall and be able to say I was glad to do this and that.”