A shot at redemption
In Greek Mythology, the legend of Achilles has it that he was dipped into the river Styx by his mother Thetis in order to make him invulnerable. His heel wasn't covered by the water and he was later killed by an arrow wound to his heel. In modern terms the phrase ‘Achilles heel’ is used as a metaphor for a deadly weakness which in spite of overall strength can lead to a person’s downfall.
This week we saw a blistering performance from Leigh Griffiths which blew away a solid, if unimaginative, Kilmarnock side. Until his arrival on the field Celtic were struggling to overcome a defence which relied on numbers and muscle to keep the Hoops at bay. Celtic didn’t help their cause by over-elaboration and an unwillingness to shoot at goal. On one occasion in the first half the cumbersome John Guidetti had a clear chance to shoot but instead chose to hesitate and dribble the ball away from goal much to the frustration of the crowd. We all like to see beautiful and intricate goals but at the business end of the season the main job is to win matches. Kilmarnock’s opening goal owed much to a wicked deflection and was scarcely deserved given their defensive intentions. A few fans were worried that Celtic would struggle to win a game they had, in terms of possession (73%) controlled from start to finish. In terms of goal attempts it was 18-2 in Celtic’s favour. However, as Barcelona found out in 2012 the only statistic that matters is the final score.
Leigh Griffiths arrival on the hour saw Celtic become a much more purposeful and pacey side. He was a blur of movement at times and the Kilmarnock defence was being pulled all over the place. His three goals were technically excellent and his positioning very impressive. Things are looking good for the striker on the field although his off field behaviour remains problematic at times. During his time at Hibs he was banned for gesturing at opposition supporters and more recently he has made unwise comments on social media. He is also currently being tried under the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act for events in a pub before a Hearts v Hibs game. Chanting about ‘Hearts going bust’ is standard football banter although as a professional player he should be more sensible. More serious though is the allegation of chanting ‘Rudi Skacel is a f*cking refugee’ in a bar full of Hibs fans. In the age of video technology any involvement in such things is simply asking for trouble. It should be noted that Griffiths denies the allegation and others have noted that the inference that such chanting was ‘likely to incite public disorder’ in a pub full of Hibs fans was unlikely.
Playing his first senior game at just 16 for Livingston has meant that he has had to take a lot on board at a young age. The praise and adoration of his own club’s fans is balanced by the vitriol and abuse he gets from others. He needs to rise above it and not engage with the less cerebral elements who abuse him in stadiums and online. Griffiths was most unwise when he reacted to a jibe on twitter by posting a message saying 'F*ck off back to your own country ya clown.' He could learn from Irish international player, James MacLean, who gave up on twitter after being drawn into disputes with the loyalist fringe over his decision not to wear a poppy on his Sunderland shirt. Such trolls are not interesting in hearing about another perspective but merely want to abuse those with a different world view from theirs. As MacLean learned, you cannot reason with unreasonable people.
Leigh is 24 now and entering his peak years as a player and it is time he demonstrated maturity and a willingness to learn from past mistakes. He is a Celtic player and the club rightly demands high standards from those who wear the Hoops. As a club initially founded by refugees and rightly proud of our open and inclusive ethos, Celtic no doubt made it clear to Leigh that he should think very carefully about his public actions. If he wants to know what sort of club Celtic is he only had to look down the Celtic Way after the Kilmarnock game and see the generosity of spirit among the club’s supporters.
I hope Leigh goes on to score many goals for Celtic and that he manages to cut out his more foolish off field antics. Some Celtic supporters expressed their concerns when he signed for the club but I’m of the opinion that we are all due a shot at redemption. He is undoubtedly a very good footballer on his day and we were all guilty of some youthful indiscretions in our time but he can’t allow events off the field to become his Achilles heel. I think he knows that now.