Debating Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths' case for a Euro 2020 spot
Amongst all the Euro 2020 fever in Scotland today, especially for the 6 Celtic players chosen, there’ll be some sadness.
After all, not everyone can make it. Surprise package Andy Considine could feel aggrieved to miss out. Ditto Ryan Gauld, whose red-hot form in the Liga NOS has gone unrewarded.
Spare a thought also, for Leigh Griffiths.
There’s a huge frustration there. As Celtic supporters, we know just how clinical Griffiths can be on his day. He’s scored 123 goals for the Bhoys [Transfermarkt], and set up a further 51 in just 262 outings. Those outings, though, have come fewer and further between. In the last two seasons, he’s failed to reach 20, something he’d have done with relative ease in years prior.
Obviously, Griffiths’ is a difficult case study, and it should be remembered that the striker should be recognised for sharing his mental health story in 18-19 [BBC]. Depression, in particular, can make a person unmotivated, sluggish and permanently exhausted. It has a genuine effect on the physical, as well as the psyche.
But take nothing away from the guy: when he’s firing, he’s the most natural finisher Scotland has produced in years. Yet, he doesn’t make it onto the bus for Steve Clarke’s Euro 2020 side. Let’s argue the case for and against Leigh Griffiths.
Steve Clarke has missed a trick for Euro 2020
At the very least, you’d have thought Griffiths might’ve made the squad as a back-up option. Certainly, his fitness is questionable currently, but his striking instincts and hunger to win are never in doubt.
While Che Adams, Lyndon Dykes and Kevin Nisbet are all decent strikers, an on-song Griffiths is much better than “decent”. He’s clinical. You want goals in massive games? He can do that. Free-kicks? Corners? All in his wheelhouse. Late goals, from appearances off the bench? No question.
Take, for example, his impact against Aberdeen. Celtic had absolutely zero right to draw level, but who pops up on the 93rd minute? Leigh Griffiths [BBC].
October 2020: we’re struggling against St Johnstone, a tough, well-organised side. Who leaps for a header and seals the result? It’s that man again [SPFL]. There are more examples, in massive games. Take, for instance, his strike against old foes Rosenborg back in 2018 [TalkSport]. If you want a super sub, generally speaking, Griff is a good bet.
You’re talking about a unique striker who, if you can get the best out of him, will reward any manager. Under Ronny Deila and Brendan Rodgers, Griffiths could be absolutely clinical. Not just a poacher, Griffiths can score with either foot, close in or from range. He’s also chiefly responsible for two of the best Tartan Army moments in recent memory [SFA].
As a back-up, at the very least, Griffiths was a solid option. Clarke has missed out.
Counterpoint: others deserved it more
With all that in mind, it’s not as if Griffiths was playing regularly. And with all the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, it makes sense that Clarke didn’t feel he could rely on the Celtic striker.
In 22 league matches, Griffiths has scored just 6 goals. In total, he’s spent 901 minutes on the pitch, and has scored 7. It’s not brilliant, and doesn’t compare particularly well to his Scotland counterparts. 18-goal striker Kevin Nisbet would’ve felt aggrieved to miss out, for example.
With 14 strikes this season [Transfermarkt], Lyndon Dykes has hardly been the most prolific either. Ah, but. What Dykes offers is something completely different. A battering ram of a striker, Dykes’ ability to hold up play and find options around him separates the QPR man from his competition. Let’s be honest: this is a team of wee guys, and Dykes has the keys against more physically demanding opponents.
As for Che Adams, it’s a difficult one. On the one hand, Adams enjoyed a purple patch of form that made the SFA incredibly motivated to get the Southampton striker’s allegiance sorted out. On the other, again, not the most prolific; but Adams’ ability to work off the main striker, or provide width in a front three, is valuable. Griffiths just doesn’t have that.
So, in truth, it’s just that the options ahead of him are getting regular game time and offer something different. If a player can’t guarantee fitness, then they’re not a great deal of use. With Griffiths never looking quite right physically this season, it forced Clarke’s hand.
It’s a huge shame. But maybe it’s the spark Griffiths needs to make himself undroppable for Celtic next season.