After his last-minute winner against Rennes in the Champions League, Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud deserves an ode befitting his often dismissed quality.
Stoppage time has just begun. Rennes, sensing Blue blood, has poured down the pitch. Clement Grenier nonchalantly knocks a ball back for his center half, already motioning for the last gasp galumph upfield. But he’s found Hakim Ziyech instead, who, after a poised piece of possession, finds Timo Werner, once again in open space, once again with just the keeper to beat.
But, once again, Werner cannot steady himself, cannot ready himself, cannot convert. Alfred Gomis in the Rennes goal blocks it with ease, then gets up for the expectant retrieval of the ball that should see his side through to a hard-fought point. There’s just one thing. He, like Frank Lampard before him, has forgotten Olivier Giroud.
At this point, we should all take a moment to think back on times we too have dismissed, ignored, belittled or flat-out forgotten this French forward. You may have done it recently, you may have done it so long ago you don’t exactly remember, you may have done it so many times you’ve actually realized the error of your ways and gone to the opposite end of the scale, but we have all done it at one point or another. It’s part and parcel of footballing fandom at this stage.
But it doesn’t have to be. Because, if you look clearly, Giroud has regularly reminded us of his presence, his evident quality, time and again throughout his career. He’s done it 44 times for France, 105 times for Arsenal and 30 times for Chelsea. And those are just the blatant, net-busting times, when we’re hit right in the face with one of his goal-bound efforts, triggering this same long-lost recollection that this is a player that matters.
This is not to say that he matters more than, say, Timo Werner or Tammy Abraham. To believe in that would be to distrust the sands of time. But Tuesday night proved that, at the right time, he can matter just as much. His herculean header in the 91st minute was a testament to that fact.
Werner is a young striker, with perhaps even twice the talent and potential, but half the battle-hardened experience. His running may be resilient, but his finishing is not. Not yet. Whether this is due to the overworked legs that come from playing at least 75 minutes in all six games he’s played so far this month or a hangover from the six-goal drubbing that occurred in the most memorable of those six is unclear. But the solution seems apparent to everyone except the man that counts.
And part of the solution involves the man of the hour. The man who, cometh the most recent hour and a half, was there when it mattered and able to first beat four men to a dropping ball and then direct it past all of them into the net.
A man who, with his Jules Rimet replacement still gleaming, may be a distant memory soon enough, but was still able to school his own replacement in the art of staying calm, rising highest and delivering on the biggest stages. Because that’s what good strikers do. And Olivier Giroud is certainly that.