Denis Law makes case for Leigh Griffiths and Strachan

AS DENIS Law arrived at Hampden yesterday morning, a group of workmen were removing the Euro 2016 signage from the front of the stadium.
Denis Law was speaking at an event hosted by SFA sponsors William Hill at Hampden yesterday. Picture: SNSDenis Law was speaking at an event hosted by SFA sponsors William Hill at Hampden yesterday. Picture: SNS
Denis Law was speaking at an event hosted by SFA sponsors William Hill at Hampden yesterday. Picture: SNS

It felt like an appropriate metaphor for the dismantling of Scotland’s latest bid to reach a major tournament finals, which Law had witnessed as a VIP guest of the SFA the night before.

Scotland’s greatest-ever striker shared in the excruciating disappointment experienced by the Tartan Army as Robert Lewandowski’s 94th-minute goal salvaged a 2-2 draw for Poland and snuffed out all hope of Gordon Strachan’s squad snatching a play-off place. Law, who scored 30 goals in 55 appearances for his country, was left to lament the current absence of a reliable and prolific goalscorer in the Scotland ranks. It is a weakness the still sprightly 75-year-old believes is the biggest problem facing a football nation whose wait to feature at either a World Cup or European Championship finals will now stretch to at least 20 years.

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Although Law admired the delightful glimpse of finishing prowess displayed by Steven Fletcher when he curled the ball home to give Scotland a 2-1 lead, the Sunderland man’s tally of five goals from his 24 caps remains unimpressive.

Law is among those who feel it is now time for Leigh Griffiths, so consistent in the scoring stakes for Celtic over the past nine months, to be given the opportunity to prove he can improve Scotland’s strike rate.

“We lack a striker capable of scoring seven or eight goals in a campaign,” reflected Law. “That is what every team is looking for.

“You can play really good attacking football but you need someone to put it in the back of the net. Some guys, that’s just what they do – like Lewandowski does for Poland. We just haven’t got anyone at that level just now.

“I thought Griffiths might have been involved on Thursday. He looks dangerous whenever I see him play. When you see him near the box, you feel as if something will happen.

“The Gibraltar game on Sunday should now be about giving people like him a chance. You don’t know how they will do until you try them.

“Playing for you country is too big for some people but for others they just love it. It just looks so normal for them. International football is difficult because you don’t get many chances. When you do, you need to take them.

“Of course, strikers have to have guys making things happen and creating chances for them.

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“When I was at Manchester United, I had Bobby Charlton, George Best and Paddy Crerand.

“Without these kind of people you can’t score goals as they are the ones who deliver it.

“My favourite striker was Jimmy Greaves. He wasn’t the greatest player in the world, but when he was in front of goal you knew the ball was going to end up in the back of the net. We could be doing with someone like that.”

Law made his Scotland debut shortly after the team had played in the 1958 World Cup and had to wait 16 years for his own chance to play in a major tournament finals. The 1974 World Cup in West Germany proved a bitter-sweet finale to his international career.

“We didn’t qualify in the 1960s when we had some really good players and a great team as well,” said Law.

“It was really difficult to qualify because only the group winners went through and some of the teams we faced were fantastic. It was just unfortunate that we didn’t qualify in that period, and then when we did in ’74,I was past my best.

“I would have especially liked to have qualified for the 1962 and 1966 World Cups, I think we could have had a good run there in particular.”

Most Scotland followers would now settle for simply getting there. The next attempt will begin next September with the opening 2018 World Cup qualifiers and Law hopes Gordon Strachan remains at the helm.

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“Unfortunately in football there’s always a clamour to change the manager when the team falls short,” added Law. “But they can’t all win.

“When Gordon got the job I thought we might have somebody here who can get the team back on track. Of course you need the right quality of player too but I felt – and still do – that he has got something there. He’s got a bit of character, he was a good player himself and he likes the team to play attacking football and uphold the traditions of the Scottish national team.

“So I was really hoping things would go his way and I still think he is the best man for the job. You have to wonder who else would be a better candidate to take over if he got the sack or decided himself that he had to go.

“Based on the performance against Poland, and overall in the campaign, I think progress has been made under Gordon. He has to stay.”

l Denis Law was speaking at a William Hill media event. William Hill is a proud sponsor of Scotland.