JOINING Celtic gives Leigh Griffiths the perfect platform to become a Scotland regular, according to assistant national coach Stuart McCall.
The former Hibs and Livingston striker has scored four goals in five games since leaving Wolverhampton Wanderers in a £1million transfer, prompting a call-up to the squad for tomorrow’s friendly with Poland in Warsaw.
Griffiths was not in Gordon Strachan’s original 24-man group but his form since arriving in Glasgow forced the Scotland manager into a rethink. He joins Steven Fletcher, Steven Naismith and Ross McCormack as the strikers heading to Poland, with all four keen to impress ahead of the European Championship qualifiers starting in September.
McCall, expects Griffiths to grow in stature at Celtic between now and then. As a predatory finisher, he is already being mentioned as an ideal replacement for Gary Hooper, who left Parkhead for Norwich City last summer. McCall believes the 23-year-old will quickly become an established name in the Scotland side provided he can command a regular starting place at Celtic.
“He was left out of the squad initially because he’d just made the move to Celtic,” explained McCall, who assists Strachan alongside Mark McGhee. “He hadn’t played a lot at Wolves before moving and I think the gaffer was trying to do him a favour and let him settle at Celtic. He’s hit the ground running.
“He scored a barrowload of goals at Hibs but with the amount of chances Celtic create you would imagine he’ll go from strength to strength. If he cements a place in the Celtic side, which I’m sure he will, the future looks bright for him with Scotland.”
Champions League football beckons next season for Griffiths, who already boasts an impressive domestic scoring record. At Livingston, Dundee, Wolves and Hibs, he scored a goal almost every second game. Making an impact at European and international level is the next step for the Edinburgh-born forward.
“Playing with Brown, Mulgrew and Forrest – lads who make up part of our squad – will serve him well,” continued McCall. “For Scotland, it’s good that Leigh has gone to Celtic. There was this debate about whether he’ll score goals in the Champions League but that’s yet to be seen. He’s certainly proved at domestic level that he’ll score goals.
“He probably does thrive on pressure but I don’t know a great deal about his character. He’s been a model pro with us. He’s trained hard, played hard and given everything he’s got. I’m sure he’ll relish being at a club the size of Celtic and getting the chance to get his goal tally up. That catches people’s eyes. He had a good season at Wolves. He scored goals in the early part of the season but then he couldn’t get back in the team. I suppose it’s been a dream for him going to Celtic.”
There is no denying Griffiths seems a more mature character now than in his early years as a professional. He seemed eager to court controversy back then but McCall stressed that his attitude and conduct with Scotland have been a shining example.
“I don’t think anyone believed he wouldn’t go to Celtic and do well. He’s certainly matured. I didn’t know him as a kid but since he’s joined the Scotland squad he’s always been a good lad. He hasn’t given us a minute’s bother, he’s very conscientious, works hard and does what’s asked of him. He’s been no problem.”
Another player in top form but who has not earned a call-up from Strachan is James McFadden. The 30-year-old destroyed Hearts at Fir Park on Saturday and continues to go from strength to strength at Motherwell, watched closely by McCall. The Lanarkshire club’s manager believes McFadden could still have an international future and reach the 50-cap milestone.
“What is frustrating James is he’s two caps off 50,” said McCall. “When you get so close, it would obviously be a special moment if he could do it. Everyone knows he was the idol of the Tartan Army and, as a fan myself, he gave us some great moments. I think he is best just concentrating on what he’s doing at club level. He doesn’t want to set any targets and be let down in any way.
“Faddy went out with a hamstring problem earlier in the season and couldn’t get back in the [Motherwell] side. He understood why because the boys in there were scoring goals. Now he’s got his chance up front and he’s taken it. He’s always given us everything in training, he’s good with the young lads and there are no negatives about him.
“In fact, we gave the lads a week off a few weeks back because we weren’t playing. James came in every day during that week, which shows his enthusiasm. We gave them Thursday to Thursday off, but James came in Thursday, Friday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I think he knows that he gets to a level where he can’t afford to take many days off. He wants to keep his peak fitness and sharpness.
“Since the turn of the year, he’s been in really good form. I think that’s what James has been yearning for, a little bit of consistency. Our good run of form coincided with him coming into the team against Partick Thistle when we won 5-1. He’s got a lot of confidence about him. Even when things haven’t been going well, James has always worked hard at his game and in training. He’s getting the benefits of that at this moment in time.
“Regarding Scotland, if he keeps the consistency he’s showing at the moment, you can never say never. At international level you could imagine him playing through the middle just off a striker now, but in that area there is Snodgrass, Maloney and Morrison. He’s got some stiff competition to get himself in there. All he can do is keep playing well for Motherwell and who knows?
“If asked about any of the Motherwell players, I’ll give an honest opinion. Mark McGhee was at our game on Saturday so he’ll have seen James’ performance. Gordon has had to leave a few midfielders and strikers out of the squad this time. James has certainly been doing well but he just needs to do it consistently, which is his aim.”