Mark McGhee has predicted that Celtic will soon be fighting off English Premier League clubs wanting to sign striker Leigh Griffiths.
The Scotland assistant manager admitted he and Gordon Strachan have been astounded by the transformation in the former Hibs player’s game over the course of the past 18 months, going from someone who struggled to command a game for the national side to becoming a key figure.
Griffiths’ two stunning free-kicks in the World Cup qualifying match against England in June will, no doubt, have sparked the attention of clubs south of the border, but McGhee insisted the 27-year-old’s all-round game was such that it won’t be long until that interest turns into offers of hard cash.
He said: “A year to 18 months ago if someone down the road had said to me ‘could Leigh Griffiths do well in the Championship?’ I’d have said ‘He is a finisher, in the right team then probably’.
“Now if someone asked if he could do well in the Premier League I’d not hesitate, his all-round game has improved so much.
“Remember I watch these games all the time. Last week I was at Brighton against Newcastle and Leigh could have played in either of those teams, absolutely no danger. That’s how much he has come on as far as I am concerned.”
Griffiths has not always found life easy at Celtic Park, former boss Ronny Deila and current manager Brendan Rodgers both warning him that he needed to become “a 24-hour athlete” if he was to make it at the top level.
That criticism of his lifestyle and the arrival of French forward Moussa Dembele – who took over as first choice striker for the Hoops last season despite Griffiths’ 40 goals the previous year – has, in McGhee’s estimation, played a major part in his play.
He said: “All of these things have contributed to him upping his game. Those at Celtic deserve a huge amount of credit for getting his mind engaged. But he definitely has the bit between his teeth.
“I think we are grateful he has improved as much as he has. Even in the time we have been here he has come on so much he’s almost unrecognisable.”
Lauding Griffiths as the arch-typical modern day striker, McGhee went on: “Plenty of them know one way and that’s with one up. Leigh can come short, link up, put people under pressure but he can run in behind as well.
“It’s not about being physical in terms of one-to-one combat. It’s more about his movement, energy and determination to get a goal.
He’s one of those boys with high percentage of shots and high percentage hit the target. Watch him in training and he absolutely smashes it and invariably hits target. He has it all – power, accuracy and variety in his finishing.”
Griffiths has, of course, also been a regular scorer on the European stage, his latest strike being the all-important opener in Celtic’s 3-0 Champions League win over Anderlecht, a result which puts Rodgers’ side in with a chance of pipping Bayern Munich to second place in their qualifying group.
And, again, McGhee believes Griffiths’ performances at that level will attract even more admirers.
He said: “The thing about the England game is people look at his free-kicks and see one thing. They don’t necessarily see his open game and that role.
“In his Champions League games with Celtic, more people will see it and more and more attention will come from it.
“It’s not in the last four years he has been doing it. He’s improved over the last year to 18 months. Therefore he needs to sustain that and I’m sure Celtic will be batting away approaches for him.”