Olivier Jonathan Giroud an enemy of his own self – Too Nice and too good for any club including his current club Chelsea to let go
Can it ever be a bad thing for a striker to score goals? On Wednesday evening, Olivier Jonathan Giroud scored four goals in a game (vs Sevilla) for the first time since 2009.
It was the perfect quad: right foot, left foot, header, penalty. It was also a free pass for Chelsea, who had confirmed their qualification the previous week.
Olivier Jonathan Giroud, king of the dead rubber. He probably won’t go for the tagline. An undoubtedly sensational performance, but you wonder what it all means for Giroud. You see, with a European Championship next summer he has been agitating for a move that would secure the regular minutes he believes may be required to retain his place in Didier Deschamps’ starting XI.
Giroud did precisely the same before the 2018 World Cup, joining Chelsea from Arsenal in January. Since then, 25 league games in almost three years. Ten of those have come in the final month of the season – he plays when others need a rest
Had Olivier Jonathan Giroud failed to score against Sevilla – or Rennes before them – his exit strategy would have been easier. But Giroud has 15 club goals in 2020, almost matching his total from the previous two years combined
And that’s Giroud’s biggest problem: he’s so very easy to keep. Post-match on Wednesday, Lampard described him as a “great professional”. It’s a classic sporting backhanded compliment. Twenty-something superstar goalscorers or creators are never described in this way. It’s a euphemism for not kicking up a fuss – “he plays well when we need him and we don’t often need him”
Giroud’s newly discovered goalscoring outbreak is fascinating because it clashes with his established reputation. Between 2016 and 2018, he was almost unique in top-level football as the successful non-goalscoring striker (perhaps Roberto Firmino now joins that club, although he has scored 30 goals over the last two seasons). During his 546 minutes at the 2018 World Cup, Giroud did not score. There were 247 players who had at least one shot on target during that tournament, but he was not one.
Yet there were no angry campaigns to drop him, no accusations of bias from supporters of clubs with prolific French strikers.
France succeeded because of Giroud, not in spite of him. Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe were happy to discuss the freedom they felt with Giroud leading the line. At Chelsea, Eden Hazard described him as the best target man in the world.
Olivier Jonathan Giroud was cast as the still point of a turning world, to pinch Eliot’s phrase. He busied central defenders, dropped deep and held the ball up while those younger and quicker thrashed around him.
The truth is that, at 34, Giroud is designed perfectly for his current role. He was never an elite finisher or an elite creator, just a superb facilitator and a brilliant option for a top-four club to bring off the bench. That is a skill in itself.
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Every footballer wants to start every match, but history is littered with great substitute strikers – Solskjaer, Inzaghi, Defoe etc. That duty requires a dedication to match preparation that is unmoved by the probability that it will not be fully required.
The move might come. Chelsea may cede to goodwill and honour and grant Giroud his wish in January. Personal preference is for a glorious return to Arsenal, but Lampard would surely prefer him to migrate. A host of Ligue 1 or Serie A clubs would be lucky to have him.
Or perhaps Giroud’s doubts about staying at Stamford Bridge are a little unfounded. His lack of minutes have hardly curbed his international enthusiasm: eleven goals since the start of 2019 is comfortably higher than any other French player and surely at least guarantees him a place in Deschamps’ squad.
Griezmann, Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Nabil Fekir, Anthony Martial, Kingsley Coman, Wissam Ben Yedder, Marcus Thuram, Houssem Aouar; France have an outrageous crop of attacking talent, many of them 23 or under. But find me any who offer what Giroud does and Deschamps will call you a liar.
That speaks of Giroud’s career in microcosm. He is the second oldest attacker to make a Premier League appearance this season, and yet his qualities remain timeless in an age when wide forwards and false nine strikers have never been more popular. He has played almost 350 games for two Big Six clubs and yet during only one season has he been the undoubted first choice.
Succeed with France next summer and you wonder whether Giroud might walk off handsomely – always handsomely into his glorious sunset; he will be almost 35. He would leave us as one of the most fascinating players of his era. Many are still unsure of what to make of him; every manager will know.
One thing is for sure: this is a career well-lived, created out of very little into something definitively special. Olivier Jonathan Giroud played his first top-flight match at 24. He scored his first competitive international goal at 26. But he may end next summer as France’s fifth-highest appearance maker and their record goalscorer. If that’s life on the periphery, sign us all up.