Olivier Giroud has always been the player managers use until they can find something better, even if ‘better’ actually means something aspirational that doesn’t work as well. Is another period of brief acclaim coming to an end…?
Given the sheer amount of discourse/analysis/takes/noise/bullshit around football today, it’s virtually impossible for someone to be underrated. So this is not a piece about how underrated Olivier Giroud is by the wider world, or commentariat. Do not worry.
It’s really more of a lament for what could be the end of the latest brief period when Giroud is rated highly enough by the people that actually matter. Namely, football managers.
Giroud has been sensational for Chelsea since the restart, scoring eight goals in ten games and generally making everyone wonder why he was ostracised from the first-team before that. The short answer is of course his contractual situation and that he was seemingly on the verge of being sold to Inter for about three months, but ultimately it boiled down to Frank Lampard not rating him enough to give him a longer go.
And yet despite the excellent form, even if he scores a hat-trick against his former team Arsenal to win the FA Cup for Chelsea at the weekend, the chances are that Giroud won’t be in the Chelsea team for too much longer. Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech are on their way, with Kai Havertz to follow, and while none of them are direct replacements for Giroud style-wise, they haven’t been signed to sit on the bench. Even with some judicious rotation, it’s tricky to see them be regulars in the Chelsea forward line while still leaving room for Giroud.
In all likelihood Giroud will go back to the supplementary role he seemingly always has had to settle for, in club football at least. It seems that Giroud’s domestic career in England has been governed by what an Arsenal fan said to me about six years ago: “He should be an option, rather than the option.”
And yet, Giroud has proved a number of times that he can quite easily be the option. His form in recent weeks isn’t a freak spell: it’s more noticeable because he’s scoring goals, but he’s essentially doing what he’s always done: made those runs to the near post, occupied defenders, provided what Antonio Conte would always refer to as a ‘point of reference’ in attack.
The problem with Giroud is that he’s not aspirational. He’s functional. He’s perceived as a stop-gap centre-forward, the guy you get to do a job while you wait for someone else to come along. A little like if you put Sam Allardyce in Rylan Clark-Neal’s body. He’s the player managers have used while they wait for something better, even if he makes the team work. He’s never really been anyone’s first choice: as this piece on The Athletic notes, he wasn’t even first-choice when Arsenal bought him back in 2012, with Lukas Podolski intended to be their No.9 and Giroud first reserve.
Giroud then went on to play 253 times for Arsenal, scoring a perfectly respectable 105 goals, breaking 20 in two of his five full seasons. But that wasn’t enough for a team that aspired to be title challengers. They tried to sign Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema, Jamie Vardy and lord knows who else while Giroud was there. Eventually they did sign Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and that was that.
Even at Chelsea, they brought in Higuain a year after Giroud signed and tried for Dries Mertens and Edinson Cavani, among others. Giroud was basically ignored for the first half of this season, greenhorn Tammy Abraham and, less explicably, Michy Batshuayi ahead of him in the pecking order. Abraham scored enough goals to justify that decision but in the last two years, Batshuayi has the same number of league goals for Chelsea as comedy ricochets into his own face off a goalpost.
Giroud was only really used as an afterthought, a ‘we might as well’ after that Inter move came to nothing. The same as it ever was: a striker picked because he’s there, rather than sought after. He’s the perfectly nice three-bed semi that people on Grand Designs sell in order to pay for their wattle and dawb ecohome with some implausibly expensive floor-to-ceiling windows imported from Sweden, as Kevin McLoud looks to camera. He’s the Seat Ibiza someone drives while they’re on the waiting list for a Tesla.
Even with France, where his role as that core around which their lavishly talented other attackers can buzz around is seemingly regarded with more respect – after all, they did reach the finals of the last two major tournaments with him – he would almost certainly not be in the team if Karim Benzema was available. Didier Deschamps essentially found a formula that worked, by default.
And perhaps herein lies the real reason why Giroud doesn’t get due acclaim, and the paradox that has hampered his career: that he is a player who thrives in a good team and facilitates excellent players, but won’t elevate an average one. But because he doesn’t stand out in an average team, the perception is that he doesn’t belong in a good team.
That might lead to a sobering thought for anyone involved with Arsenal during the latter Wenger years: that Giroud wasn’t actually a symbol of their relative mediocrity, rather that they were too mediocre to bring out the best in Giroud.
People have always seemed to think that the grass is greener than Giroud. That he’s fine, but they can do better. That seems to be the vibe coming from Chelsea at the moment too, bringing in nicer and shinier and more modern talent. Maybe they will turn out to be right, but you get the sense that once again, Olivier Giroud will be eased aside, having proven he is more than his perception.
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