WHAT is it with Scotland strikers and declaring an end to National Service, all because they fell out with the manager?
Mo Johnston, Duncan Ferguson, Kris Boyd and Steven Fletcher all called time on their International careers for various reasons, and sometimes temporarily, when they were at the peak of their game.
Now Leigh Griffiths has decided to withdraw from Scotland duty, albeit without officially retiring from International Football, in order to work on his fitness. However, there are many cynics who believe that the Celtic strikers self declared omission from this weeks matches against Israel and Portugal are down to a disagreement with Manager Alex McLeish and not solely on getting in better shape.
It all goes back to last months Nations League opener against Albania at Hampden, when Griffiths was informed that he was dropped as our main striker, with Steven Naismith getting the nod as Scotland number nine. The Hearts man justified McLeish’s faith in him by netting the second in the 2-0 win and could easily have had at least one more.
Naturally, Griffiths was disappointed at being consigned to the substitutes bench having started in the 4-0 defeat to Belgium, where he saw very little of the ball in a game the Scots were taught a footballing lesson by the second best team on the planet. He was then livid that McLeish said that Naismith would start the match in Israel as a result of his good display against the Albanians.
As ever with these stories, social media has went into meltdown with fans divided on Griffiths attitude, with calls ranging from “spitting the dummy” to “well done for sticking it to McLeish”. Which leads to the big question – was Leigh Griffiths right in declaring himself unavailable for the upcoming matches, especially the Nations League game in Israel?
Griffiths gripes at being left out for the Albania game are understandable. He is our best natural striker available and he would’ve felt aggrieved at being punished for not producing his best against the Belgians, particularly as he was starved of service to cause problems. Quite frankly, it’s a good thing that he feels disappointed as all our players should be pushing for a place in the starting line up and not be content with a place on the bench.
Regarding the decision itself, there could be few complaints. Prior to the Belgium game, Griffiths had very little game time throughout the calendar year with niggling injuries and the options of Moussa Dembele and Odsonne Edouard keeping him out the Celtic team. Naismith, in the other hand, was a man back in form at Tynecastle and he brought that onto the Hampden turf that wet Monday night against Albania.
Since then, Naismith has continued his fine form at club level and, whilst Griffiths is back in the Celtic team and scoring again, has justified why he should start again having taken the opportunity when it was given to him in the last International. Again, Griffiths is right not to be happy as every good striker should want to be starting but once more has no complaints given Naismith’s form.
Where he may have justifications for a gripe is being told so early by McLeish that he’d likely be on the bench for the Israel game and the Scotland Gaffer telling the media that the Celtic number nine hasn’t answered the phone since. There are some things a manager should keep behind closed doors and letting this be played out in public was not a wise move by a man renowned for his man management skills. It’s not very encouraging to a striker being told weeks before the game that he won’t start, especially as so much can happen in between International dates such as a dip in form and injuries. The conversation on who starts on Thursday should be saved for when all the players get together for Scotland duty.
That said, Leigh Griffiths has taken an unwise move in making himself unavailable. If we take him face value and accept his reasons are down to fitness, the best way to get your fitness levels up is to play competitive matches. It is also bizarre that his reasons come now at a time when he has got his Celtic starting berth back, whereas he was happy to pull on the Dark Blue jersey last month when his fitness levels were considerably lower.
The best way a player can win his way back is to prove it on the pitch, take the opportunities when it’s handed. Scotland could be in a position on Thursday where they are a goal down and need to turn to Griffiths to turn the game for them. As he showed against England in particular, he is more than capable of doing so and, in an instant, can make that number nine jersey his again. He won’t do that by running on the treadmills at Lennoxtown whilst his teammates are all over the world representing their countries.
Griffiths also risks being put further down the pecking order should Naismith and the other forwards impress in these next two matches. He is being complacent by thinking he’ll walk back into the next squad because there is a lack of quality options in the attacking areas. McLeish has made it clear that he and others need to earn their place in the Scotland starting line up.
Scotland are building for the future with a reletavily young squad and need all the quality they can get. The last thing they need is their best striker and Manager at loggerheads over team selection. In this case, Leigh Griffiths needs to do what he does best when questioned by his Gaffer – do his talking on the pitch and ensure he is the number one striker for club and country!