Leigh Griffiths was destined to be playing in Scotland’s top league come September 1st, but a turn around in fortunes has seen the Scot net quite a few times for the Old Gold.
His time at Wolves began under Mick McCarthy who signed the highly rated youngster, in 2011 for a fee reportedly around £150,000, bought in as ‘one for the future’ the fans trusted that McCarthy had uncovered yet another rough diamond, that he was going to merge and mould into a stellar first team player, much like he did with Matt Jarvis.
After failing to appear in Wolves’ Premier League campaign in 2011, he was sent out on loan to the green half of Edinburgh, needless to say, this is where his career would really take off. However, not everything was hunky dory. To begin with, Griffiths had numerous fallouts with the Hibs manager, Pat Fenlon. He was critical of Griffiths conduct in front of supporters, after he was suspended for a second time for the same offence. Relations between the management and Griffiths in the early years of his Hibs career were not great, though the club swiftly denied reports of a training ground bust up. However, things began to pick up for Griffiths toward the end of the 2011/2012 season, scoring a vital winning goal in the Scottish cup semi final against Aberdeen. Griffiths’ total for that season was 11 in 36 – not bad, but not great.
Wolves, the following season, felt Griffiths was surplus to requirements and he was told to say up in Scotland. A blistering start to the season saw him earn the player of the month award for August and his first cap for Scotland, this came off the back of him scoring 11 goals for Hibs. He was a revelation for Hibs, despite a dip in form after winning his first cap. Come January, Dean Saunders out of desperation or tactical insight (I fear it was the former) recalled Griffiths back to the Midlands, so he could be ‘assessed’ by the management, what they had to assess him for, I do not know. Alas, his reinstatement back into the first team did not happen after the club issued a statement regarding Griffiths’ conduct on, yep you guessed it, Twitter. He was frog marched back to Edinburgh and would remain there till May.
Without wanting to bash Dean Saunders, it did highlight his inability as a man manager. There was, on his doorstep, a young, vibrant, energetic player, who was in great form and itching to play football. Saunders failed to pocket all this talent and instead, let him go. One reason for this could have been the potentially negative effect on the dressing room, Wolves were in a dire situation, they had been humbled away at Luton Town and were facing another relegation fight. The last thing that Dean Saunders would have wanted is player who is going to spout his mouth off every five minutes, it does not matter, to a degree, how good he is, it had to be all about the collective in a situation like the one Wolves were facing. But surely it was worth a gamble? Especially with the injuries Wolves had in the latter half of the season. We saw how unpredictable and volatile a footballer he may be, but we have seen with the current manager that if he is treated right, he can be a real asset to a team.
Yet again, Griffiths was charged after posting another offensive tweet, it seemed that this young man failed to have the attitude that was needed to play top level football. Time and time again, Wolves have had to let players go because of their negative attitude, players who have a lot of genuine ability but who just do not have the right application – see Freddy Eastwood as an example.
What Griffiths soon discovered is that, excuse the cliché, doing your talking on the pitch, actually endears you to the fans that are paying to watch you. The Scot scored in every match in February, earning him his second player of the month award. Things were quickly on the up for Griffiths, as he bagged his first ever hatrick in a Scottish cup-tie against Kilmarnock.
That season was the making of Griffiths, he scored twenty-five goals for the club and was nominated for both player and young player of the year, winning the latter. In addition, he was included in the SPL team of the year and won the Scottish football writers player of the award. It was frustrating, as most things are for Wolves fans, to see a striker, who was ours, score for fun. Questions were asked to the management about why this precocious talent was not being given an opportunity in a Wolves shirt, those goals he is scoring in the SPL could have been goals for Wolves, potentially – who knows. He could have made the difference in our fight to stave off a successive relegation.
The season finished and with morale at the Midlands club, at an all time low, fans just presumed that Griffiths would remain at Hibs – not a candle was held for the return of the prolific goal scorer.
However, things were about to change at Wolves, another changing of the guard gave renewed hope for Griffiths, he was recalled back to Wolverhampton, despite Hibernian’s best efforts to sign their top scorer. New manager, Kenny Jackett, completed the best bit of summer transfer business – he kept Griffiths at the club, he was going to be playing for Wolves, in League One.
Awarded the number nine shirt, Jackett gave Griffiths some confidence, an arm round his shoulder. Griffiths can be a unpredictable character, as we have seen. But Jackett’s told him that ‘you are my main man and shall be for the foreseeable future’. However gutted fans were to see the previous number nine leave, it had to be done if Griffiths was to step up into the first team, it could be argued that, if Ebanks-Blake had stayed, Griffiths would be permanently plying his trade in Scotland. Jackett made a swift, decisive, strong decision to cut loose the old Wolves and bring through new blood.
Jackett has not been given enough praise for the reintroduction of a twenty-five goal a season man. Another manager would have cut their losses and sold Leigh Griffiths, Jackett did not, Jackett saw the potential in him, as he has done in so many other players at the club, he saw the mercurial talent that this young Scottish lad had and fought to keep him at the club – for me, this is the most important piece of business Wolves have done in the past five years.
So, what has Leigh Griffiths brought to this new look Wolves side? Who sit second in League One on 13 points. Well, to start with, he has brought four goals in five league games, but in addition he has brought a level of clinical finishing that has not been seen since Ebanks-Blake’s early years at the club. I first saw him Griffiths against Real Betis, in a pre season friendly, and you could see his talent come through, even then, in a nothing game – his movement off the ball, the ability to drag defenders all over the place, his speed, his awareness and, most importantly, his destructive finishing.
Leading the line, or playing as part of a two, Griffiths looks comfortable, despite his young age. Being in Scotland for those couple of years have made him into a man, because of the monopoly that is Scottish football, the pressure, from the management at least, has been reduced slightly. This has been vital in his development as a player, he has been allowed to make mistakes and it seems he has learnt from that and grown as a result. He gradually became the main man at Hibernian, and thankfully did not shy away from the pressure, but instead lapped it up. He was enjoying the fans singing his name and scoring plenty of goals in the process.
It seems that he is forming a partnership with Kevin Doyle, a partnership that has seen Wolves unbeaten in League One. Long term, it seems that Sigurdarson will take the Doyle role, once Doyle departs, and a long-term strike partnership will be forged.
With Griffiths, Wolves have an ace up their sleeve, not many teams in League One have a goal scorer, in fact, not many teams have a reliable twenty a season man. Wolves do. It seems on first viewing that Griffiths is a poacher, born offside, like a Bent or a Del Piero (though obviously no where near as good). But on closer inspection, Griffiths can drop deep if he feels he needs to, but having Kevin Doyle next to him eases that burden. Doyle is the older, more experienced player who does all the hard work and can let Griffiths grab all the headlines.
On the goal scoring front he can scores all different types, take Port Vale away, for example, he worked his backside off to get the ball from two Vale defenders, he then eventually thundered the ball in the top corner. Another example, Gillingham at home, his ability to trap the ball from a substantial height and then to angle his body in such a way that he can volley it first time past the Gills keeper is remarkable.
Griffiths has an incredibly bright future ahead of him, if Wolves are promoted in the next two years, the sky is the limit for him, and the club. With him at the helm of Wolves fight back to the Promised Land – who knows what we could achieve? Griffiths is symbol of a brighter future, a future that is breeding young, hungry, exciting and attacking players to restore some pride back into the Old Gold.
Wolves have their number nine and he is hungry.