LEIGH Griffiths is the man to fill Gary Hooper’s boots at Celtic – no ifs or Butts.
That’s the verdict of former Hibernian boss Pat Fenlon, who was in charge of the new Hoops striker during his goal laden 2012/13 season when he scored 28 goals in 42 games for the Easter Road side.
Celtic fans have given a mixed welcome to the 23-year-old signed from League One Wolves on the final day of the January transfer window, with much of the debate surrounding the striker’s colourful off-field reputation.
But Fenlon, who laughed off claims that he was headbutted by the player during a training ground row, says Hoops fans need only recall their underwhelming reaction to the signing of Hooper, who would score 82 goals in 138 appearances.
“He is a special talent, he as all the ability in the world,” said Fenlon.
“I’ve never worked with anyone as good as him in what he does. He has a frightening finishing ability.
“He scores all different types of goals, he’s not an out and out box striker, he’s good with both feet and strong in the air, and surprisingly strong, physically. He also has some pace to go with it.
“There was a mixed reaction to Gary Hooper signing from Scunthorpe, with fans asking ‘who are we signing from there?’ but look at his record.
“Trust me, once the fans see him in action, they’ll be delighted.”
Fenlon believes Griffiths showed his best form in Scotland because he was closer to family and friends, and believes playing for a massive club like Celtic will help him reach his potential both on home soil – and abroad.
“I think he’s grown up a bit in the last while, but he’s obviously at his happiest when he’s near home,” he said.
“That seems to suit him, somewhere with people around him to look after him, and he’ll get that at Celtic too, they’re a big club with plenty of support to get the best out of players.
“He’s at a club that can improve him and I see no reason he can’t play regularly and then do what Hooper did in Europe.
“It’s more difficult obviously against better defenders at that level, but you don’t lose that knack to score. You might have to work harder, and the pressure will be greater, but I think he will cope with that, he’s cocky in a good way and he believes in his own ability.
“That’s a big help, because while some might fear a move to Celtic, he’ll embrace it.”
Griffiths’ natural ability is beyond doubt, but what’s less obvious, Fenlon says, is the attitude and desire he has to become an even better player.
“He’s always the one people ask me about, and it’s funny because people read this or that about him, but they don’t know he has a fantastic attitude to training,” he said.
“He may have to stay on top of other stuff, but he really wants to improve and get better.
“He’s still fairly young and people forget that. While he was fantastic for Hibs, he was still quite raw with some parts of his game to develop – but he’s very willing to work.
“Over the year I had him, he improved his link play and general awareness and he’s a good package now.
“He’s got a great opportunity now, and he has to work hard for it, but he’s good enough to play every week.”