What qualities does the standard-issue, regular armchair pundit look for in a big, central No.9 striker? Goals, mate. Pure ‘n’ simple. G-O-A-L-S.
And if they ain’t gettin’ them, they ain’t doing nuffink.
If you feel inclined to agree with this sort of pub-talk analysis proclaimed bi-weekly by the Big Daves of your local, you won’t have been a fan of Olivier Giroud at this World Cup.
His failure to score in six games (admittedly starting only five) has alarmed some and called doubt upon the 31-year-old’s ability as a target man.
But there’s more than meets the eye with Olivier Giroud. Casting aside the frankly moronic assertions of the receding hairline hoard and looking past the notion that a striker’s only job on the pitch is to score, Giroud’s regular inclusion in Didier Deschamp’s France team makes perfect sense.
Wistfully dig through your World Cup memories right back to the 16th of June. A glorious sun sat high in the sky, four games graced our screens in one blissful day and France looked like an impotent candidate predestined for quarter-final failure.
Now set that memory for exactly 12:26PM on of that day and you’ll recall – if you have a semblance of brainpower – the moment to the minute when France’s World Cup fortunes took a promising swing towards the road to glory.
It marked the arrival of a bristling Giroud in place of Antoine Griezmann. It was a bold call, but France had looked lacklustre before it was made. Skipping forward exactly 11 minutes, you can see just why Deschamps took the plunge.
Paul Pogba’s goal-line technology assisted strike ensured that Les Bleus took full honours against the Socceroos in a 2-1 win. But, it’d been Giroud’s disruptive arrival who set up the Manchester United star’s effort initially and he has proven time and time again this tournament to be a priceless asset in the French line-up.
Before his substitution, France had been fielding the potent attacking three of Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé. To most eyes, it doesn’t get much better and the big lump of a Chelsea forward that Olivier Giroud is would seem an unhappy alternative.
But, that front three wasn’t working. It was inexperienced and lacked a real focus, with its eldest player at just 27 and its tallest at 5’8”. Starting that three meant fielding three goal-hungry individuals, with little chemistry and an inability to dominate a clustered attacking third.
Despite the flair for going forward possessed by Deschamp’s side, real attacking prowess – the type desired by a trio of world-class forwards – has not yet been exhibited at this World Cup as the gaffer favours a more cautious approach; taking every game as it comes with just enough to get through it successfully.
The ball therefore cannot be incisively fed on a constant stream to that particular trident as Deschamps refrains from kitchen-sink launching unless absolutely necessary.
France therefore need a lynchpin, a focus for when the ball is sent goalwards and a man who can deal with such attacks in a manner that supports and enables the superior talents surrounding him.
Giroud, naturally, is the perfect fit. At 6’3”, he towers above the rest of France’s forwards and knows how to bring a ball down, hold it up, and ensure that any attacks are made effective by creating time and space for the wizardry of his teammates to exploit.
His place in the starting XI has therefore been unquestioned by those in power and Giroud has started each of France’s games since coming on against Australia.
Didier Deschamps perhaps best sums it up himself, explaining his unwavering presence as follows: “Olivier Giroud is always extremely generous and he doesn’t complain when it comes to working hard.
“He might not have the flamboyant style of other players, but the team needs him in each and every match… It’s the players around him that benefit from his presence because he attracts a lot of attention from defenders.”
Giroud also provides a further threat. This World Cup – as everyone including your mother will tell you – has been defined by set-pieces.
In unparalleled fashion, set-piece goals have become the mode during this tournament and an ability to threaten from dead-ball situations has become of paramount importance in the era of ultra VAR-based surveillance.
Whilst France may not have been netting them on the scale of some (though they have managed four from six games), Samuel Umtiti’s winner against Belgium not only secured their place in the final, but became the 69th set-piece goal scored this tournament. England then made it 70 on Wednesday night.
Having someone such as Olivier Giroud to call upon in these scenarios is vital.
For Umtiti’s header, Giroud can be seen creating space in now trademark fashion and actually loses Vincent Kompany to become a completely free man at the back post should the ball have ricocheted out or missed his compatriot entirely.
The fact that it was Kompany assigned to the fella in the first place speaks volumes: Giroud needs marking and close attention.
It may be his trickier, shorter colleagues bagging the goals, but it’s Giroud who catches the opposition’s eye, drags them out of shape and leaves great, gaping holes for others to capitalise upon.
So, for all he seems to be failing to score for himself, Olivier Giroud is paving the way for his country to win the 2018 World Cup.
If only we could overlook the go-to ignorance of this world’s armchair pundits and pub-talk pillocks, we might all be able to appreciate the finer qualities of world football.
Fine qualities possessed by Olivier Giroud: a big, central No.9 striker. It’s not all about the goals.