Living in the Periphery: How Olivier Giroud Became the Most Underrated Striker of His Generation
Whether it’s the backstreets of Grenoble or the lights of London, Olivier Giroud has never been given the credit he rightfully deserves…
There are many players whose talents go unsung despite their remarkable impact on the football pitch but perhaps none so plainly as Olivier Giroud. The clinical frontman has proven time and again why he’s a thorn in the side of any defensive backline and yet he finds himself living in the shadows of his fellow teammates.
This season ended with Olivier Giroud finally getting his hands on the most prestigious trophy available in club football and it’s fair to say it’s nothing less than he deserves. Although his presence in this current Chelsea side is negligible at best, nobody can deny that his involvement merits more respect. Without the Frenchman’s picture-book overhead kick against Atletico Madrid, Chelsea might not have progressed through to the quarterfinals of the Champions League and yet his contribution is eclipsed by other standout performances along the way from Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic.
Despite rumours of his departure to AC Milan, Giroud has decided to extend his contract with Chelsea until 2022. The 34-year old’s agreement was originally meant to expire this summer and having been left in the periphery since Thomas Tuchel’s arrival, it seemed almost certain that Giroud would escape for greener pastures. However, Chelsea’s director Marina Granovskaia made it clear that “with so much still to play for, there was only one decision we could make when we exercised the option to extend his contract back in April.”
It’s unclear why Giroud is continuously overlooked wherever he goes, especially when considering his statistics for both club and country throughout the years. The frontman did not become France’s second-highest all-time goalscorer by mere accident. With 46 goals in just 108 appearances, Giroud is only six goals behind arguably the greatest striker in history, Thierry Henry, and looks primed to break his record if given enough playing time. Despite this penchant for finding the net, the French target man has always struggled to keep his name on the team sheet – instead utilised as a ‘super-sub’ to influence the homestretch of a game.
How Important Was Olivier Giroud in France’s 2018 World Cup Triumph?
However, there was a time before Giroud was resigned to a life of bench warming. As the searchlight for young talent broadened, the Frenchman caught the eye of Ligue 2 club Tours after his brief impact while playing for Grenoble. In the 2009/2010 campaign, Giroud graduated from the sidelines having been given the lead striking role left vacant by Tenema N’Diaye. It took the upcoming star less than 30 minutes to showcase his abilities, scoring a brace on the opening day against Le Havre. From there, Giroud became a stalwart of their attacking outfit – bagging himself 21 league goals to finish as the league’s top goalscorer.
This remarkable tally was enough to secure a position at Montpellier for a fee of £1.8 million. In his debut season, Giroud picked up from where he left off at his previous club, grabbing yet another golden boot. After extending his contract until 2014, Giroud proved that he was worth his weight in gold by scoring consecutive braces against Nice and Lyon. His turnover of goals was pivotal in Montpellier lifting their first league title in club history that year which instantly made him one of the hottest prospects across Europe.
Although Montpellier’s owner Louis Nicollin was very reluctant to let Giroud leave, his departure seemed all but certain when Arsène Wenger came knocking for the Frenchman’s services. The transfer was eventually finalised in June 2012 for an approximate fee of £9.6 million – which is a bargain considering his litany of attributes.
The new recruit hit the ground running in his inaugural season at the Emirates, finishing with 17 goals and 11 assists. This was a welcome sight for Arsenal supporters, especially after lamenting the departure of Robin Van Persie. Giroud enjoyed a two-year honeymoon period where he remained uncontested for the lead striking role, but all that changed with the arrival of Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil.
Despite being Arsenal’s top goalscorer in the 2015/16 campaign with 24 goals to his name, the plaudits were all centred around Özil’s playmaking masterclass. What ought to have been Giroud’s moment in the spotlight was instead drowned out by promising understudies like Aaron Ramsey who were stealing the Frenchman’s thunder.
Giroud eventually joined crosstown rivals Chelsea in the hope of reviving his fortunes in January 2018. The London side were then in the midst of juggling between managers with Maurizio Sarri taking over from Antonio Conte. But even the Italian chain-smoker would not spare Giroud a chance to prove himself – favouring the unreliable Álvaro Morata instead.
With the Frenchman’s patience wearing thin, Giroud flaunted his abilities at every possible opportunity to get himself back in contention for the starting lineup. That year, Giroud was instrumental in Chelsea claiming their second ever Europa League title – scoring 11 goals in 14 games and winning the competition’s Golden Boot.
This milestone alone should have been enough to warrant a permanent spot in Chelsea’s starting XI, but history repeated itself as Eden Hazard took the acclaim on his farewell appearance against Arsenal in the Europa League final. Despite bagging the crucial opening goal against his former club, Giroud was left wondering how long it would take before his prowess was duly recognised.
The following season saw Chelsea sanctioned with a transfer embargo, prohibiting them from doing any business for two years, leaving a shortage of frontmen in the squad. This vacancy had Giroud’s name written all over it and yet Frank Lampard chose academy graduate Tammy Abraham to take the role instead. Although the French forward did feature in several games throughout the season, the cruel saga of misfortune continued.
This was all compounded by a tough run during the 2018 World Cup campaign in Russia where Giroud played seven games without registering a single shot at goal. However, unlike previous managers, Didier Deschamps did not lose faith in the frontman – having selected him in every major tournament since his appointment in 2012. Though Giroud was outshined by the incredible prodigy that is Kylian Mbappé, the Chelsea forward played an essential role in France’s triumph nevertheless – adopting a deeper role which allowed for his fellow countrymen to flourish at his expense.
Olivier Giroud’s career is an endless highlight reel of spectacular goals – whether it’s his Puskas-winning scorpion kick against Crystal Palace or his postcard volley against Sweden, the charming Frenchman has produced moments of footballing magic over the years that will live long in the memory of fans across the globe. Blessed with a natural talent for ball control and hold-up play, Giroud possesses all the qualities of an elite poacher who deserves the liberty of starting every week as opposed to spectating from the dugout.
What Giroud lacks in pace and athleticism is more than compensated for in knowledge and technique. He always manages to take control inside the penalty area, freeing up space to create goal-scoring opportunities. This is saying nothing of his ability in possession. There are very few players of his height that can bring the ball down under pressure and find the target – all with the surefooted grace of a marksman half his age.
It’s uncertain whether Giroud will get much more game time at Stamford Bridge under Thomas Tuchel, but with the Premier League missing from his trophy cabinet, the Frenchman will definitely be looking to tick off this last box on his otherwise completed checklist. If so, he will belong to a very exclusive syndicate of players who have won every English domestic prize as well as the World Cup.
As for his future in the French squad, Giroud appeared to have missed out to Karim Benzema after being recalled to international duty for the first time since October 2015. This was until the Real Madrid talisman limped off injured against Bulgaria in the final warmup game before the Euros. Not known for strokes of fortune, Giroud capitalised on the opportunity by scoring a quick-fire brace, edging him even closer towards footballing immortality.
Whatever happens, there is no disguising the fact that Olivier Giroud will bow out as a hidden treasure of top-flight football. Although the Frenchman has lived in the periphery for most of his career, he has continuously delivered on the biggest stages when given the chance. Not only does he make light work of bagging sublime goals but he also takes pride in giving his teammates the license to prosper going forward.
It will be a sad day for football when the iconic Frenchman finally decides to hang up his boots. Maybe then when Giroud is riding into the sunset with his stockpile of Golden Boots and trophies will he finally gain the respect he deserves.
By: Richard Sayell
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Baptiste Fernandez – Icon Sport