Celtic: 'Fired up' Leigh Griffiths targets six in-a-row

By Amy MacBeathBBC Sport Scotland
Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths with his PFA Scotland Player of the Year award
Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths displays his PFA Scotland Player of the Year award at their Lennoxtown training ground

Leigh Griffiths says Celtic are "fired up" for next season as they aim to win a sixth straight Premiership title.

With a fifth successive title win all but wrapped up, the PFA Scotland Player of the Year says thoughts are now turning to defending the crown next season.

"We're fired up again for next year," Griffiths said.

"We've got five in-a-row and next year we'll look at making it six."

Griffiths scooped the Player of the Year prize after a season in which he has contributed 39 goals, and is humbled to be marked out by his peers as the top player in the country in this campaign.

"As a professional footballer to be voted as the player of the year is the main one, you are playing against teams week in week out and for them to vote you the best player in the country is special," said the Celtic striker.

"I still have {my young player award} in the house. My mum's wanting this one, but she's not getting it."

Celtic's Keiran Tierney and striker Leigh Griffiths with awards at PFA Scotland ceremony
Celtic's Keiran Tierney won PFA Young Player of the Year, while striker Leigh Griffiths took home the award for Scotland's top player on Sunday in Glasgow.

Disappointment under Deila

Griffiths' individual displays have kept Celtic's title defence on-track this season, but failure in the cup competitions and in Europe has left many fans disillusioned with the club, and questioning the direction it is heading.

Failure to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League was an early-season blow, and a winless run in the Europa League did little to appease the Celtic support.

Then came a League Cup semi-final defeat to Ross County and, most painfully of all, a Scottish Cup loss at the same stage to bitter rivals Rangers. These factors combined left manager Ronny Deila feeling he had no option other than to step down at the end of the current campaign.

Ronny Deila
Failure to qualify for the Champions League brought pressure on Celtic manager Ronny Deila

"We were disappointing," admits Griffiths.

"The European campaign wasn't great and the cup defeat against Rangers - everybody said it was a disaster but you know we played one of our worst games of the season and we drew, but got beaten on penalties which we all know is just a lottery."

"{Players} could've been performing better, you know we've lost silly points in silly games. We were beaten twice by Aberdeen, we've drawn a couple of home games we didn't score in but we still managed to wrap up a league title and that's the most important thing."

New manager, new start

The list of potential candidates to succeed Deila is a long one. David Moyes, Paul Lambert, Malky Mackay, Michael O'Neill, Brendan Rodgers, Neil Lennon, Roy Keane - just some of the names that have been linked with the soon-to-be-vacant Parkhead hotseat since Deila announced he would be exiting Parkhead in the summer.

Griffiths has already paid tribute to the Norwegian for coaxing out of him the best form of his career, but says a new man in the dugout represents an opportunity for every player at Celtic.

David Moyes
Former Manchester United manager David Moyes is one of the favourites to take over at Celtic this summer

"Everybody in the changing room is going to have a clean slate," said the Scotland international.

"There are players in the dressing room who will be in favour and others who won't be in favour and it will be up to them to work their way back into the squad.

"I've had a good season so far but a new manager coming in will have his own ideas - hopefully I'm part of that plan."

Champions still the team to beat

The football world has been captivated by the fairytale story of Leicester City defying the odds to become Premier League champions. Aberdeen did provide a challenge for the Premiership title, but the feeling among many was that Celtic, for all their shortcomings, would have too much strength in depth over the course of the season.

So it has proved, and Griffiths is pleased that another Leicester-style underdog triumph has not unfolded in Scotland.

"As players we are delighted with what Leicester have achieved as it shows why football is the best sport in the world. But we don't want any underdogs winning leagues up here, we want it to be us.

Leigh Griffiths scores against Aberdeen at Pittodrie
Leigh Griffiths has scored 39 goals in all competitions for Celtic this season

"Aberdeen may have run us close this year, but ultimately we want to be Scottish champions at the end of the year."

Celtic can clinch the title with a point when the Dons visit Parkhead at the weekend.

"The boys are buzzing, we can't wait to go out and confirm ourselves as champions on Sunday.

"We know there's going to be a big crowd coming and we want to send the fans home happy. Hopefully it's three points, we only need one, but we know Aberdeen will come down and make it difficult for us."

Scotland's main man?

Having established himself beyond doubt as Celtic's leading forward, Griffiths' next target is to gain the same status in the Scotland team.

The former Hibs striker has seven caps to his name, but has yet to establish himself in Gordon Strachan's side, more often than not finding himself behind Steven Fletcher in the pecking order.

Celtic duo Leigh Griffiths and Scott Brown in Scotland training at Hampden
Celtic duo Leigh Griffiths and Scott Brown in Scotland training at Hampden

Griffiths hopes the end-of-season friendly internationals against Italy on 29 May and France on 4 June will give him a chance to prove his worth before the 2018 World Cup qualifiers kick off with a trip to Malta in September.

"I'm just happy to be back in the squad now and if I get a start I'll be buzzing, if not sit on that bench and wait my turn.

"We've got a lot of good strikers all vying for that one place. You've got to be playing well and in favour so hopefully come the World Cup qualifiers I'll be that man."

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