THE talent has never been in doubt. And you will be hard-pushed to find anyone who has worked with Leigh Griffiths having a bad word to say about him as a person. The question marks have always been around his attitude and application in training.

Billy Stark knew him best when he was a young forward just making his way in the game, and he speaks of him in warm tones, but there is also a fatherly concern that comes across when he talks about the latest setback to have befallen the Celtic hitman.

Leaving aside the personal issues that forced Griffiths to take a sabbatical from the game last year, there have been times when his undoubted talent seems to have been the ticket that has gotten him away with behaviour that might have seen less gifted players cast aside.

And after the man who famously scoffed a Tunnock’s Teacake in one go while sitting on the Celtic substitutes bench reported back to Lennoxtown last month in less than tip-top condition, Stark worries how many more strikes Griffiths has left before Neil Lennon decides he is out.

He desperately hopes that this latest transgression is not the straw that breaks the camel’s back, citing the extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus lockdown perhaps not as an excuse for his failure to stay fit, but as reason to extend Griffiths just a little more leeway.

“From having him at under-19 and under-21, I never had a problem with him,” said Stark. “He always had that marksmanship and that great left foot.

“His finishing was always there, but his all-round game came together, and it was a real pleasure to see him reach the heights he has reached with Celtic.

“The punters love him. You always get that with these maverick type players, because I think they can see a wee bit of themselves in them.

"It’s not a great surprise [that this has happened]. He’s that type of character.

“Everybody wants to jump on him, notwithstanding the qualities that he’s got. Some of his problems have been well documented and with the world we live in, everybody wants to criticise.

“With the way this last four or five months has gone, it has been difficult for everybody. There are a lot of issues round about the actual virus itself.

“There’s been a lot of debate about young players and the mental side of it, and that will affect older players too. You have to factor all of that in.

“It is disappointing, but I don’t know how it’s been for him during lockdown. We all have stresses at home and other things going on, so you always have to be sympathetic to circumstances.

“Some players will have suffered more than others with the Covid-19 situation and being laid off for a long time.

“You can look at it from the perspective though of how many more chances does he get? You can’t keep doing these things and expect it to be the same outcome every time, because people will get fed up eventually and there are others there pushing. There may come a time when it is one too many and you don’t get back in.

“He has always managed to come back and turn it around due to good management, and I would expect it to be the same again this time.”

Stark feels that Celtic boss Lennon will be just as disappointed as Griffiths that he has had to leave the forward out of the main squad’s pre-season preparations, as he would have been keen to rekindle the partnership with Odsonne Edouard that was firing on all cylinders before the shutdown.

“Towards the end of activities, he was in great form with Edouard,” he said.

“He had given Neil a wee conundrum over the winter break to come up with a way to fit both of them in, and that indicates how well he was doing.

“I’m sure that when he gets himself into shape, then that will be the case again, but of course, within that time things can change. Somebody else could come into form, so it’s not always a given you can step back in when you’re up to speed and pick up where you left off.

“That will be the difficult part for Neil. He would have been excited watching the two of them playing together towards the end of March, and he would have been looking to pick that up going into the new season.

“It looks like it’s going to take a bit longer until Leigh is ready to take part fully, because at the end of the day with the game the way it is now, it is so intense that you have to be in really good shape to do yourself justice.”

Indeed, Stark feels that Lennon’s recent comments talking up the condition of young striker Patryk Klimala have been as much for Griffiths’ benefit as the Pole’s, reminding him that his place in the Celtic side is far from secure.

“I’m sure there is a bit of man-management going on there,” he said.

“Big clubs have competition for places. Sometimes you can be in the best of shape and just not be in the best of form, so miss out that way, but if Leigh has given himself a bit of catch-up to negotiate then it’s not a given he will walk straight back in.

“I’m sure that if he knuckles down and gets himself back into shape then he’ll be competing strongly to get back into that starting 11.”