come as a surprise
Losing is hard no matter the context. However, losing is more difficult to take when…
He’s been described as “brave” but also told “he can’t pick and choose” when he plays for his country. Leigh Griffiths’ decision to drop out the Scotland squad has divided opinion that’s for sure. To call him “brave” is perhaps over-egging it but at the same time, surely we don’t want a half-fit player pulling on a Scotland jersey? The best way to describe his decision is a word rarely associated with the striker and that’s “sensible.”
The bottom line here is Griffiths isn’t fit and isn’t firing on all cylinders. In Celtic’s 6-0 demolition of St Johnstone, the striker didn’t even get on the scoresheet. Sure, he could’ve still been instrumental in that victory, but he wasn’t and he hasn’t been at his best for the last while.
We want a fit Griffiths, we want the Griffiths that turned in a mercurial display against England whilst donning a Scotland jersey. If that means he has to work on his fitness and not force himself to push through a game then so be it. You could argue game time might be the best way to do that. However, with that game time comes expectations and also a higher intensity.
The issue numerous people have with Griffiths withdrawal is his outrage at not being Alex McLeish’s number one striker. Many see this withdrawal as a direct result of Steven Naismith remaining as Scotland’s starting striker. This includes Kenny Miller who said: “You don’t just turn up when you will be getting the game time that you expect.”
If Griffiths had kept his mouth shut about and hadn’t bothered saying Naismith’s continued selection was “a kick in the teeth”, not just for him but for all Scotland’s strikers, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Due to being outspoken and stressing that he’s the best striker people now think his decision is sour grapes. When in reality, the player wants to improve his fitness so he can be more effective for club and country.
Naismith himself proves his. Remember the plethora of withdrawals McLeish and Scotland had for their South American friendlies? Well, the Hearts striker reminds us, he said:
“I had something similar in the summer. I spoke to the manager and said, ‘Look, I’ve got a bit of an injury. It wouldn’t keep me out of a competitive game but I don’t think I’d do myself justice or the team.’That’s obviously Griff’s mindset and he’s a top player. Griff has been in a lot of squads where he’s not played a lot of games but has continued to turn up.”
And herein lies the pertinent point. It’s more likely Griffiths’ attitude leading up to his withdrawal has fuelled the fire rather than the decision to drop out itself. If another player dropped out due to a niggling injury or lack of fitness would people care as much? Say Callum McGregor dropped out or even Naismith for the same reason; sure there would be some outcry but it’s extremely unlikely it’d be to the same degree.
It comes down to Griffiths’ attitude prior to this and the fact that he’s a polarizing figure. Like Naismith says, there have been plenty of times before where Griffiths has known he’s not going to start. On these occasions, for club and country, he’s turned up and put in a shift. Moreover, there’s absolutely no doubt he’s not at peak fitness.
On another note, this is a chance for us to see more of Johnny Russell and Oli McBurnie can do up top for Scotland. Sure Naismith will start, but he has a striking partner or is subbed we get to see two players who’ve yet to prove themselves at international level be given an opportunity.
McLeish himself has said he won’t throw him “under a bus” and that Griffiths is the same as any other player. If they aren’t fit or playing at the right level then they won’t play. Griffiths is slightly off the level he feels he needs to be. Does it look a bit suspicious given his previous comments and Naismith starting? Perhaps, but it’s been blown way out of proportion.
If McLeish has spoken to the player individually and has no problem then that should be the end of it. The bottom line is Griffiths has made a sensible decision which hopefully benefits the player going forward but also the national the team. The sooner he is back and firing on all cylinders for Scotland the better.