Olivier Giroud’s effectiveness in front of goal is often criticised. Goals, however, despite being a number nine, goals aren’t the main consequence of the 35-year-old’s game but the Frenchman still became the world champions’ record goalscorer in Qatar.
In 2022, there’s a need for football to be universally quantifiable. Each facet of the game is distilled into increasingly nebulous statistics while forwards are judged on their goal records and personal awards. However, a large part of Giroud’s contributions to his teams throughout his career have been intangible, a fact overlooked by Arsenal and Chelsea fans, and arguably even coaching staffs.
Continuing something of a French tradition in tournament-winning sides, copying Stéphane Guivarc’h in 1998 and Bernard Lecomte in 1984, Giroud failed to score during France’s 2018 World Cup win despite playing as the attacking focal point for the competition’s strongest side. However, effectiveness is an overlooked yet important attribute in the modern game, which is often defined by flare and moments of technical quality, and although the AC Milan striker isn’t an overtly skilful beach footballer, Giroud is an intelligent and efficient player of the sport itself. No goals in 2018 didn’t equal zero effectiveness.
Playing as what Kylian Mbappé might call a ‘pivot’ striker, both in Qatar and 2018, Giroud has occupied centre-backs both with his physicality and his movement, which creates space for those around him. The striker’s positioning, understanding of space and awareness of in-game situations around him is arguably the best in Europe, affording the striker a rare ability to create goals without even touching the ball.
Germany’s Thomas Müller has long been praised for a similar space-creating skill. Giroud, however, does similar work but often with his back to the goal while being marshalled by opposition centre-backs while Müller likes to arrive late and engineer space from an attacking midfield or wider position. Nevertheless, the Bayern Munich man’s ludicrous recent assist tally at club level notwithstanding, Müller still has a marginally weaker international goal record than Giroud, with 44 in 121 caps compared to the Frenchman’s 52 in 116.
Despite criticism over his goal-scoring, Giroud made double figures in all but his last Premier League season at Arsenal, making 146 goal contributions over 253 games in all competitions for the Gunners while the Frenchman also provided a goal or an assist every 107 minutes across his 119-game Chelsea career. Meanwhile, not only did Giroud break Thierry Henry’s 51-goal record for France in Qatar, but he did so in six fewer games while also boasting a better goal ratio than Karim Benzema, Raymond Kopa and Zinedine Zidane.
Much of Mbappé’s recent unrest at PSG has come from the club’s inability to sign a facilitating player like Giroud for him to play off and the 23-year-old’s recent France form is partly down to the partnership with Giroud who recently said their relationship is “only happiness.” Giroud’s effect on Mbappé and France generally underlines that football, although the sport’s culture sometimes implies otherwise, remains a collective endeavour. Olivier Giroud may not be the World Cup’s most eye-catching players, but he’s certainly one of the most effective.
Adam White | GFFN