Can it ever be a bad thing for a striker to score goals? On Wednesday evening, Olivier Giroud scored four goals in a game 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 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 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.
Chelsea have no obligation to let him leave and would hardly collect a meaningful transfer fee if they did. With Tammy Abraham and Timo Werner Frank Lampard’s first two centre forwards, Giroud is worth keeping around just in case.
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.
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….
Read More:Giroud is his own worst enemy – too good and too nice for Chelsea to let go