Leigh Griffiths has spent much of his football life being maligned in the media, and I’m not even talking about just the time he’s spent at Celtic.
He has, on occasion, behaved like an idiot, but I’ve never thought he was as much of one as the newspapers appear to portray him.
For a start, they’ve spent a long time hounding him for the different kids to different women, as if he was a layabout on the dole who didn’t want the responsibilities of fatherhood.
Yet you can see Griffiths isn’t like that at all.
He cares about those kids, all of them, and he’s never tried to hide from what he needs to do as a dad.
They go to every home game at Celtic Park, and the way he behaves you can tell he loves them even if he doesn’t have relationships with their mums.
Griffiths, I would argue, has long been misunderstood.
He’s a young guy, passionate about his football, both on and off the park, and in general is just “one of the lads”.
There doesn’t seem to be anything malicious about him.
He simply stumbles upon the odd landmine every now and again, forgetting he’s in the public eye.
As to his talent as a footballer … well that has never been in the slightest, the remotest, doubt, not since he broke into the Livingston first team at 16.
His record with them was roughly a goal every two games, and he maintained that average when he moved to Dundee, still only a teenager.
When he sealed a move to Wolves something happened.
His career stalled, removed from family and friends.
Nevertheless, his league record there – 12 goals in 26 games – is pretty impressive nonetheless.
The club couldn’t give him much first team football, so they sent him north again to Hibs … and that’s where he was playing when he really caught my eye.
I had known about him for a while, of course, as anyone who keeps a keen eye on the Scottish game did, but at Easter Road he was electrifying.
His goal every two games record was maintained – 39 in 78 games – but it was his all round play, his dynamism, his courage on the pitch, that showed you what the kid was all about and what he could achieve.
In 2012-13, the year before we signed him, Leigh won a slew of player of the year awards; SFWA Footballer of the Year, SPL Player of the Year and SPFA Young Player of the Year.
The reasons why we went for him are clear enough from that alone.
I was thrilled when he signed for Celtic, and I get giddy every time I see him with a clear shot at goal.
Leigh Griffiths is the best finisher and all round striker we’ve had since the Super Swede Larsson was wearing the Hoops, and he will be the next front man at our club to hit the 100 goal mark.
Few people realise that Leigh is more than one third of the way there; he has played 65 games in the Hoops and already has 34 goals.
By the end of this season I firmly believe he’ll be standing at 50 and the road to the 100 will be clear in front of him.
Apart from the obvious happiness there will be at his performances on the park, Leigh has also matured as a person off of it.
A story in the press today says that he has sacrificed time off to work harder, now that he’s back in the running for the Scottish international team – where he has a mere 5 caps, and no goals as yet.
In the fullness of time, Leigh Griffiths will be the national teams main striker.
I have no doubt of that either, and I suspect he senses that he’s approaching his peak as a player and wants to make the very best of his career that he can.
This new, more mature, more self-aware Griffiths can be glimpsed in his growing importance to our first team squad, where you would now consider him one of the first names on the team sheet.
Aside from his goals, he is a consummate creator of them too … he has laid on 14 of them since signing for our club, and finished his Hibs career with 20.
Our manager, Ronny Deila, speaks highly of him these days, about his professionalism and his work ethic … a far cry from his views early in his tenure when it looked as if Leigh might actually be allowed to leave Celtic Park.
Back then, Ronny didn’t think he worked hard enough and there is some suggestion that he had some attitude issues.
He’s not the only one who had to change to suit Ronny’s style, but he appears to have embraced it more than most and his willingness to make the necessary changes to get back into the side speaks volumes for his character.
Deila is known to be a great motivator, and encourages personal growth.
This has clearly been a tremendous influence on our young striker and we’re reaping the benefits.
Leigh turned 25 on Thursday, a day after scoring twice in the Champions League.
This is a kid with 145 career goals already, in under 300 games.
On and off the park, our boy is coming into his own.
What a time to have him here.
It is the perfect match of club and player.
I hope we’re watching this guy in the Hoops for the rest of his career.