Transfers

Under-appreciated Giroud can still transform any attack...but must leave Chelsea

 • by Tom Bodell
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A world champion. A winner of ten major honours. France’s third-highest scorer of all time. Yet Olivier Giroud has never quite earned the respect he’s deserved. And the same is true once more.

Now Chelsea have seen their registration ban overturned, a new forward appears to be top of Frank Lampard’s shopping list. That means Giroud, 33, will be allowed to leave Stamford Bridge this month. He won’t be short of suitors.

Internazionale, Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Lyon, West Ham United, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Newcastle United have all been credited with an interest in the French striker since the summer.

And this is the strange paradox with Giroud. He’s never been out of demand, yet he has never truly been first-choice anywhere since leaving Montpellier for Arsenal in 2012.

When trading North London for West during the 2018 January transfer window, Giroud did so knowing he would not be the Blues’ go-to No.9. They already had Álvaro Morata but wanted someone with more physical presence than the meek Spaniard.

Giroud offered that and hit five goals in his first 13 appearances for his new club, including a game-changing brace in the 3-2 win over Southampton and the opener against the Saints in the FA Cup semi-finals. He also bagged the only goal of the game against Liverpool in May.

Last season he still struggled to make the striker’s berth his own from the outset, even though Chelsea lacked a wholly convincing centre-forward with Morata exiting for Atlético, only to be replaced by Gonzalo Higuain in January. Despite this snub, Giroud bagged 13 times from 45 appearances. He was pivotal to Maurizio Sarri’s side reaching the Europa League final, netting 11 times in 12 starts to win the competition’s Golden Boot.

In the Premier League, though, it was a different story. Sarri handed the forward just seven starts, with a further 20 cameos off the bench. Indeed, 91 of Giroud’s 225 Premier League appearances have come as a replacement. Even in his Arsenal pomp, he was in and out of the starting XI. Despite that, he could point to a thoroughly decent return of 73 goals from 119 starts for the Gunners.

2018/19 Premier League stats for Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud

The problem is managers see Giroud only through his 6ft 4in frame. The obvious but lazy assumption to make is that as a big man he’s good in the air but less effective with ball at feet.

That simply isn’t true.

You don’t become the goalscorer Giroud has by relying on balls hoiked onto your forehead. While he’s never been a 20-goal-a-season man, the Chambéry native has never struggled for goals either. With 39 strikes for his country, only behind Thierry Henry (51) and Michel Platini (41), it’s worth noting he’s scored more times for France than David Trezeguet, Zinedine Zidane and Antoine Griezmann.

Yet the testament to his ability is the fact he has remained integral to Didier Deschamps’ talent-rich France squad despite the fact he lacks the mobility, pace or dynamism of alternative options. Giroud is le Bleus’ great facilitator. He gets the best out of those around him and therein lies his real value.

Last season in the Premier League, Giroud ranked fourth among strikers who played in at least 25 per cent of available minutes for assists (0.43 per 90). On top of that, he posted 1.43 open-play shot assists per 90, putting him 13th among his striking peers.

Giroud’s assist against Cardiff City at Stamford Bridge in 2018 underlined his intelligence and footwork perfectly. Pedro fizzed in a cross from the left and, even though he was losing his balance, the Frenchman cushioned a perfect pass into the path of Eden Hazard to slot home just before half time.

Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud assists Eden Hazard's goal vs. Cardiff in 2018

He showed a similar deftness of touch and spatial awareness to set up Pedro’s opener against Bournemouth the week prior, playing a perfect one-two with the Spaniard to release him into space on the edge of the area before firing home.

Another forward might have looked to take the shot on themselves but Giroud’s act of selflessness set the Blues on their way to a 2-0 victory.

Olivier Giroud assists Pedro against Bournemouth

Olivier Giroud assists Pedro against Bournemouth

One of Giroud’s great strengths is dropping deep to link with the midfield and while this has not always been ideal in a Chelsea side lacking the runners to dart in behind him, in a team with pacey forwards who want to drive into the space he’s vacated, it would make him an asset.

And that is what Giroud wants to be. Fed up with his bit-part role at Stamford Bridge, a parting of the ways seems inevitable now Chelsea will be allowed to sign a replacement. But Newcastle, Villa and West Ham be warned – even though he has a World Cup winner’s medal, Giroud won’t settle for not competing for honours.

Speaking to The Guardian last year, he outlined his ambition: “I prefer to be at a big club rather than playing every week in a less prestigious team and I still have targets.

“To win a Premier League is my last dream as a footballer, maybe more than winning a Champions League, because I know how tough it is to win this league. I have teammates here who have won it, so I’m a bit jealous. I want to make it happen. I don’t want to end with any regrets.”

The only regrets should belong to those who didn’t utilise him properly.

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