Few debates amongst the Celtic support generate as much heat as the one over which of our two front men is best placed to lead the line. It encompasses two separate debates, in fact, one of which is over whether to play them both, but the manager appears not to want that for now, although perhaps in the future, when the midfield is more solid, we might see his system change to one which can accommodate that option.
If we take that particular discussion off the table for the moment it leaves us with the other; whether Moussa Dembele or Leigh Griffiths is the better choice in the manager’s current system. Before Dembele was signed – and indeed afterwards, but before he burst into sudden, incredible life – the question would have been deemed ridiculous; no player we had at the club or seemed likely to purchase would have been preferred over the young Scot who evoked memories of the goalscoring prowess of Henrik Larsson.
The idea was ridiculous.
When it comes to Leigh Griffiths I am an open book. I pinned my colours to the mast many moons ago, before he first pulled on a Celtic shirt. I thought then, and now, he had the potential to be the best finisher Scotland has produced since the Champagne Kid, Charlie Nicholas. I admired his ability for years, his pace, directness, composure on the ball, his being able to spot and take a chance out of nothing and even his prowess in the air, which for a wee guy is hugely impressive.
I believed he was destined to be a Celtic player, and I was over the moon when he agreed to pull on the famous Hoops. I thought then, and now, that he’d score 100 goals for us, and he’s well on the way to doing exactly that. He will go on to be a Celtic great.
But in the battle for the single forward position in our team at the current time there can be only one winner, and Leigh isn’t deemed to have as many of the qualities which Brendan sees in a lone striker, and the simple truth of it is that in comparison to Dembele he really doesn’t.
The manager has this one right.
Dembele can hold a ball much better than Griffiths.
He is stronger. He has a greater array of technical skill, a quite incredible talent for someone so young in fact.
Gordon Strachan and others will allege that this puts him on the right side of the similar debate going on with the national team; it doesn’t. Dembele is a far better player than any of the footballers the Scotland boss has as it his disposal. You would never choose Chris Martin over Leigh Griffiths, but Dembele has the quality to make that a far better trade off.
It’s little wonder that the Premiership teams are falling over themselves to dispatch scouts north of the border and that Dembele is drawing admiring glances from all across Europe; he has that physicality and assurance on the ball that ticks all the boxes for the modern prototype centre forward, and whilst I think Griffiths is a better natural finisher (at least at the moment) Dembele has that ability to bring other players into the game too, to bully defences, to play with his back to goal and lay it off.
This is one of the reasons Sinclair has been so successful.
Moussa has given us something we’ve not had since Big Bad John Hartson left the club. I still think his ultimate future is in a front two with Leigh, because whenever they’ve played together they’ve shown how well they link up, but as long as the manager is going to play just one up front I would have to pick Dembele any day of the week.
It gives us great options to play around with, and when you have a 40 goal a season footballer sitting on the bench, well who wouldn’t want that formidable weapon on those days when the opposition defence seems too packed to break down?
Sevco found that out, the hard way, in the cup semi final, didn’t they?
In Brendan We Trust.