Friday, February 14, 2014
Scottish Premier League News February 2014
by Lisa Dillon
Neil Lennon added Leigh Griffiths to his squad on the final day of the January transfer window and the Hoops boss has no fears over whether or not the forward has the required maturity to cope with life in the Glasgow goldfish bowl. When at Hibs, Griffiths repeatedly hit the headlines for off-field issues and Lennon revealed that he was frank about the requirement and responsibility that goes with being a high profile Celtic player.
And the Parkhead boss expects Griffiths to rise to the challenge of getting in among the goals while keeping his head down. "I like gallus players and he's certainly got that nature on the pitch, although I don't think he's ill-disciplined or anything like that when he plays," said the Irishman.
"Having spoken to him you get a different perception of people sometimes. He actually seems quite a quiet boy away from the pitch. Leigh knows the responsibilities involved in coming here. He's just got to mind himself away from the park and we'll do all we can to help him with that as well.
"I spoke to him about his responsibilities as a Celtic player and to be wary of things away from the park. He's got to get used to the intensity of playing for Celtic and the public perception of him but I don't think people should judge him on his past. Just judge him on his football ability.
"He's not a bad boy, he just needs to change people's views and he can do that through his football."
Griffiths himself believes that he is capable of making his mark in Glasgow - for all the right reasons. "It was a good chat I had with the manager and he told me what is expected of me as a Celtic player, saying I can't do anything wrong or people will pick up on it. "For me it's just about keeping my head down and working hard to try to prove wrong the people who say I'm not good enough.
"Everybody has a past. I just want people to concentrate on what I do playing for Celtic and forget about everything else. I want to be judged on what I do on the pitch. "If you speak to any of the people who have played with me or been around me they will tell you I am not a bad lad.
"Yes I have been daft in the past but when I come to training I do my work, get on with things then go home.
"It's a massive deal but I have no doubt I can handle that and take the pressure that comes with it.
"There was a lot of pressure in my last year at Hibs to fill the boots of Garry O'Connor and I managed to take that in my stride. So, hopefully, I can do the same here."
Griffiths has signed a four-and-a-half year contract at Parkhead to put an end to a frustrating period. The Scotland international first heard of Celtic's interest six weeks ago but as Wolves and Celtic hammered out a fee there were doubts about the deal.
"My agent phoned me in December and said Celtic could be interested in January," explained the Scotland internationalist. "I was counting down the days. "Until the first bid goes in you are never sure if it is going to happen. It was all talk until then. But as soon as Celtic made the first bid I wanted it to go through.
"Two bids were rejected but my heart was set on it because you want to play at the highest level you can. I have watched the Champions League nights on the TV and there is no better place to play. That is where I want to be.
"I wasn't playing at Wolves so I wasn't happy. But I'm leaving a good club to join an even bigger club in Celtic."
Griffiths netted 28 goals for Hibs last term as he grabbed the Player of the Year Award but this is another step up. "I know what it takes to become a Celtic player. I had a great season last year at Hibs then I went down back the road and started scoring goals as well. "I did it last season for Hibs and have done it for Wolves so I am just thankful to get my chance here and hopefully I can prove I am a good signing and start scoring goals for fun. "I was confident last season when I was creating most of the chances on my own but at Celtic they are always going to create chances. I want to get on the end of them and put them in the net."
Celtic also added Stefan Johansen from Stromsgodset in a £2m deal as well as Holmbert Fridjonsson from Reykjavik for £150k. Joe Ledley, meanwhile, left the club to head to Crystal Palace, struggling near the foot of the Premier League.
Lee Wallace has insisted that he will remain with Rangers until they are back in the top flight.
The Rangers defender was the subject of two bids by Nottingham Forrest during the January transfer window, but both were kicked out by the Ibrox club, and the 26-year-old is adamant that he is staying with Ally McCoist's side.
He said: "I'm over the moon to still be here. We have a championship to wrap up, the Ramsdens Cup final to look forward to and a Scottish Cup game coming up that we want to do well in. And we're nearing the second stage of our recovery as a club.
"I'm more than happy to be part of that and I see myself being here for a long time. It was easy to ignore all the speculation. That's just the type of guy I am. It's just Rangers for me and always has been. You obviously hear about the speculation, but I was just solely focused on Rangers.
"If a bid had been accepted I would have dealt with it, but now I'm just delighted I can play my part in helping the club move up the leagues and getting us back to where we belong." Meanwhile, McCoist believes it could take another five years before the Scottish League One side are able to mount a genuine challenge to Celtic.
Speaking to delegates from three Rangers supporters groups, the club's chief executive Graham Wallace said there was no quick fix for the current Division Two champions.
Wallace revealed he intends to draw up a five-year plan for Rangers with the ultimate aim of giving their Glasgow rivals a run for their money in the race for the Premiership title, as well as targeting a place in Europe.
And McCoist, whose side boast a 23-point advantage at the top of the table and are cantering to their second successive league title, has thrown his weight behind Wallace's vision. "I would have thought that was about fair, yeah. I would agree with Graham there," he said.
"He has been completely honest with everybody and if he said a five-year plan has been put in operation then I think we should respect that." Asked if his side could repeat this year's title stroll in the Championship next season, McCoist said: "I don't have us down as any guarantees to be back in the Premiership next year, assuming we win promotion this year.
"Hearts are a good side and if we look at the top of the Championship now, there are Dundee, Falkirk and Hamilton doing very well. "So if we are lucky enough to go up this year, there are absolutely no guarantees that we will do the same next season. We will just have to take it one step at a time."
Scotland coach Gordon Strachan admits he is delighted with the national team's improvement in 2013 but insists they must continue to up their game to have any chance of qualifying for Euro 2016.
Since June, Scotland have won four matches - three away from home - including a World Cup double header against Croatia, but Strachan is adamant a further step up will be required to mix it with the continent's elite in France in two years' time.
The draw for the group stages will take place in Nice on February 23 and the Scots' chances of qualification has been boosted with the number of teams taking part in the finals increased from 16 to 24.
But a cautious Strachan, whose side's first match of 2014 is a friendly against Poland in Warsaw on March 5, said: "We have been better recently but we will have to get better again to qualify.
"I know that. We can't just say we are winning games now and we're feeling OK about ourselves.
"We gave England and Belgium a right good game but we lost both games and we need to get better than that."
On dealing with the expectation of a nation, a year on from his appointment Strachan admits he is still surprised by the effect positive results have on the country's followers.
"One thing that surprised me is how happy you can make a nation with a result," he said.
"That surprised me. I thought I had an idea of what it was like but I have got to grips with it now. It's amazing. The first couple of games I thought, 'Do I really want to be doing this again?' because life's good at the moment.
"But once you get a couple of results you think, 'This is right'."