So often down the years Olivier Giroud’s name on the teamsheet has been read out with a justification. “He offers aerial threat”; “He gives them a route out”; “He makes Eden Hazard play better,” said a little patronisingly, as if that is not a skill in itself.
So it was heartening this week to see him deliver a solo performance without caveat. Giroud’s second goal of four in Seville reminded me of one I watched him score live, wide-eyed, a couple of years ago. You may remember it, a slalom through the Southampton defence at Wembley leaving behind a slew of bodies in a pile like something from a Tarantino movie. “Great feet for a big man” was the prevailing analysis, but perhaps his graceful movement is not despite his size but because of it, deploying his dancing feet beneath an upper body which sways like a lorry in the wind to unnerve any defender who gets close. Zoom in on his feet and Wednesday’s second goal was Messi-esque, all short steps and dainty touches before a deft chip over the goalkeeper.
Perhaps Giroud felt he had something to prove. This Champions League dead rubber was a rare outing this season after only one previous start in the Carabao Cup – quite a demotion after spearheading Chelsea to a top-four finish in Project Restart. Frank Lampard describes the 34-year-old as “the ultimate professional” because Giroud hasn’t yet launched a chair across the Chelsea canteen, but you suspect the striker would rather be recognised for his impact on the pitch and enjoyed displaying a reminder of his wide-ranging talents.
The irony is that while Giroud can barely get a game at Chelsea he remains a regular pick in Didier Deschamps’ World Cup winning France side, so much so that he has discussed with Lampard leaving Stamford Bridge in January for regular football to avoid losing his Euro 2020 place. His major target is to add the European Championship to the 2018 World Cup “like our brothers from 1998”, and Giroud, who has 44 goals in 105 caps, has eyes on Thierry Henry’s national record of 51.
Yet it is not just minutes that Giroud requires. He has always been something of a sensitive soul. Giroud was a late bloomer and says he never believed in himself until the day he signed a first professional contract with local club Grenoble, aged 21 – the moment he realised that other people believed in him. It was striking this week that for all Giroud’s career achievements he was still moved enough by his hat-trick to have his teammates sign the matchball – “Well done Oli!”, it read, and “Yes Oliman!” – which he held proudly in post-match photos alongside his close friend Cesar Azpilicueta. Even a burly striker with a World Cup winners’ medal needs to feel loved.
The primary accusation levelled at Giroud over the years is that he lacks a ruthless streak. Perhaps there is some truth in it, but he has always tracked close to a goal every other game and has scored 11 already this season for club and country. And besides, it misses the point of Giroud, which comes back to what he brings to the team and the unquantifiable asset of growing Eden Hazard’s influence on Chelsea or Alexis Sanchez’s impact on Arsenal. Neither have found a better foil since. Giroud didn’t score at the World Cup, yet he was key in helping Antoine Griezmann fit into the French team.
Lampard’s reservation is that Giroud lacks the mobility to lead the press, something he alluded to after the match in Seville when he talked of needing pace and movement to support him. But Chelsea are full of mobile players and with that in mind it is surprising Giroud hasn’t been given more opportunity alongside the electric Timo Werner. Werner would surely benefit from Giroud’s magnetic pull on defenders to open up spaces, while Hakim Ziyech, Reece James and Ben Chilwell would all enjoy a penalty-box target to aim at. And this week Giroud issued a timely reminder that alongside all he brings to the wider team, he still carries his own unique threat.
What comes next is up to Giroud, who has Chelsea’s permission to seek a move away, and it comes down to Lampard too. Giroud’s honours board is impressive and it is odd that a career containing four FA Cups, one Ligue 1 title, the Europa League and the World Cup is somehow utterly fulfilled and underappreciated all at once. It is one that deserves a rousing denouement and while Giroud continues to do his part, only time will tell whether Chelsea can give him the attention he needs to stay at Stamford Bridge.