Celtic face decisive tie with Salzburg as Leigh Griffiths takes leave
Brendan Rodgers says team will support striker in his battle with gambling addiction
Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths with head coach Brendan Rodgers: “We are going to give him all the professional help he possibly needs to get himself to a good place again.” Photograph: Michael Molzar/Getty Images
The build-up to a decisive European tie for Celtic has been overshadowed by Leigh Griffiths being given indefinite leave further to reports he is to receive professional help for off-field problems. Manager Brendan Rodgers said on Wednesday the striker is “struggling” and that “life is tough for him right now”.
The 28-year-old is reported to have an issue with gambling, to the point where he apparently entered into a self-exclusion programme from one leading bookmaker’s shops. While Rodgers understandably did not offer details, he strongly hinted at concerns that need to be resolved.
“Leigh will be taken out of football now for a little period of time,” Rodgers said. “Leigh has had issues for a number of months; he has done amazingly to get through, play to the level and score some of the goals that he has.
“But he has reached a point where it is a struggle. We are going to give him all the professional help he possibly needs to get himself to a good place again.
“He needs to find a happiness. He is a father of five children, he is a great guy, but football and life is tough for him. We want to help him, so he will be out of football for a period of time.”
Griffiths, who joined Celtic from Wolves in 2014, has been reduced to a bit-part role for club and country this season. Fitness problems were said to be key to that, with Griffiths stating he had endured “dark times” before scoring a free-kick in a Celtic win at Hamilton last month.
“It has been ongoing during my time here,” Rodgers said. “I am very close with him, we have a strong relationship and he has had a number of issues outside football.
“Thankfully for him, nowadays with the issues that young people can come across, there is great support out there, professional support, and it’s no longer a weakness to talk. He has all of our help – staff, players, supporters – to help him get back to a good place. There will be an assessment then a plan put in place to help him moving forward. He is a great guy, he just needs some help.”
Even before Wednesday’s news, Griffiths would have been unlikely to start the Europa League match with Red Bull Salzburg. Odsonne Édouard, Celtic’s record signing, has been Rodgers’ recent preference in attack. For Celtic, the equation is simple: a point secures what would be impressive progression to the last 32 from Group B, eliminating RB Leipzig. Salzburg have already won the group.
“We’ve been getting better and better in each game and domestically we are playing at a high level,” Rodgers said. “It was important for us to arrive at the last game with it all in our own hands.
“We know it’s going to be really tough against a top-class side. But we get the chance to show the great confidence and belief we’ve had from virtually just after the game when we played them [in Austria].”
Since that 3-0 Salzburg success in early October Celtic have scored 33 domestic goals. The solitary defeat during the same spell arrived in Leipzig.
The possibility of rare, mutual Old Firm delight remains alive. Rangers would also reach the last 32 should they win at Rapid Vienna. A cluttered scene in Group G sees all four teams – Villarreal and Spartak Moscow complete the quartet – with the chance to qualify.
In the last two performances, I don’t think we’ve shown the true Rangers
Rangers could not train at Rapid’s stadium last night, because the poor condition of the pitch meant certain patches had to be relaid. Steven Gerrard has called on his players to bounce back from consecutive disappointments in Scotland; a 1-0 home defeat by Aberdeen was followed by a draw at Dundee.
“In the last two performances, I don’t think we’ve shown the true Rangers, certainly the standards we have set from the beginning of the season,” the Rangers manager said.
“We have major respect for the opposition, who along with ourselves were probably the underdogs in the group and have done extremely well to have a chance to go to the last 32. It is a fantastic game for both teams.”