CELTIC striker Leigh Griffiths has pulled out of the Scotland squad for the games against Israel and Portugal and instead will use the international break to work on his fitness levels after coming in for criticism from pundits like Chris Sutton.
Griffiths was blanking Alex McLeish’s phone calls last week after the Scotland manager had given Hearts forward Steven Naismith the striker’s jersey for the game against Albania – and also said that he’d keep it for the Israel game.
McLeish broke that story himself saying: “I haven’t spoke to Leigh since the last game. I tried to call him, but he BLANKED me. I’ll see him when he comes here.”
Griffiths, who recently got back into the Celtic side and started scoring goals again, put in a performance to forget in Salzburg last Thursday and looked the only Celtic player who was out of sorts yesterday. Indeed as Celtic scored six, Griffiths didn’t get on the scoresheet – he did come close with an excellent effort from a free-kick in the first half though.
Brendan Rodgers seemed less than impressed with Griffiths’ performance at Perth, judging by the particular attention he was paying to his number 9 from the touchline. Eventually Rodgers had seen enough and substituted the striker, replacing him with Scotty Sinclair.
Meanwhile the television viewers were hearing Chris Sutton repeat the remarks he made from Salzburg that he reckoned that Griffiths looked out of shape and was carrying a bit too much weight. Sutton of course played that striker role for Celtic on near enough 200 occasions so he should know what he is talking about.
The criticism seems to have got to Griffiths who has decided to do something about it. He issued a statement earlier today confirming his withdrawal from the Scotland squad and outlining the reasons he has reached this decision.
“I feel that I need to focus on my fitness over this international period and get back into the best possible shape.
“I had a good discussion with the manager to explain my decision.
“It’s not one that I’ve made lightly. It means a lot to me to play for Scotland and I hope to be part of Alex’s plans again in future, if selected.
“My aim is to be back to my best and be available for selection for club and country.”
McLeish’s Assistant, the former Celtic star Peter Grant, picked up the story to confirm that the Celtic player had spoken to the Scotland manager and that Griffiths’ decision had been accepted.
“To be fair to the kid he’s been honest, Alex had a great conversation with him and we’re very pleased with the way things sit. We have spoken to Celtic and understand the player, there is no problem whatsoever. It’s definitely not a huff.
“That was always our concern, that that’s the way it was going to come out. The player has explained the situation and we are very happy with that. Alex has spoken to Leigh at length and we are very, very comfortable, as the player is.
“We feel it’s very important for him that he feels good in his own skin, and we support him 100 per cent and he will definitely be part of Scotland in the future, that’s for sure.”
Griffiths has missed much of the pre-season due to injury and has been eager to stand up and claim the “Number 1” striker role since the £20million transfer of Moussa Dembele from Celtic to the Lyon bench.
Yet there is no question that Brendan Rodgers has lost faith in the goalscorer – the new contract that keeps him at the club until 2022 is all you proof you need on that one.
Now Griffiths is about the set himself new fitness targets that can only benefit Celtic. Scotland? Not really bothered…