Neil Humphreys: Don’t let Giroud leave, Chelsea
French veteran is still the Blues' most reliable striker in big games
At 34, Olivier Giroud doesn't look like an elite striker. But he didn't really look like an elite striker when he was 24.
The endearing - and enduring - French enigma has somehow won the World Cup and led the line at two major London clubs, whilst not being entirely convincing every step of the way.
At least, that's the perception. It's also Giroud's greatest asset. Deception belongs in any striker's toolkit and the Chelsea forward continues to deceive.
One of the nicest guys in football popped up with an overhead kick that was so graceful, so effortless, so utterly relaxed in its execution that it's a wonder Giroud didn't stop to check what all the fuss was about with his teammates.
His dazzling winner in the 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League yesterday morning (Singapore time) seemed to sum up his career and remind his manager, Thomas Tuchel, that the veteran needs to stick around at Stamford Bridge.
Giroud shouldn't be scoring goals like that, not at his age and not with that hefty physique. And yet, he's persisted at an elite level for years, despite being supposedly just shy of elite level.
He was just too heavy for a conventional No. 9. He was just too slow for the English Premier League. He was just too artisanal, too workmanlike, for the French artists around him at international tournaments.
But his career has been one long subterfuge, convincing the world that he was one thing when he's clearly something else entirely.
And that's a dependable, unshakeable centre-forward in key games.
No one else can stake such a claim at Chelsea, not Tammy Abraham and certainly not Timo Werner, who seems to be of the opinion that only one frenetic speed works against the best opposition.
The German was a headache-inducing hybrid against Atletico, an exhausting cross between a headless chicken and the Road Runner, as he beep-beeped his way down one blind alley after another.
With Werner playing on the left of Giroud, Chelsea's attack was very much the hare and the tranquil. Giroud plays his game like a mafia don. He moves only when he needs to. And he's generally decisive.
His sixth Champions League goal of the campaign was a master class in attacking instincts and physical efficiency. The ball was arching in the air, towards him, but behind him. So he defied gravity, but not logic.
Everything was logical. He swivelled. He cocked a leg. He took flight. He wasn't showing off. He could only connect cleanly with an overhead kick.
This wasn't the work of a narcissist, but an instinctive striker, the only one that Tuchel has at the moment.
Chelsea's manager championed Giroud's work ethic, insisting that the forward still trains like a 20-year-old. But his acrobatic masterpiece belonged to a 34-year-old brain.
If youth is wasted on the young, then the same might be said of overhead- kick opportunities. Imagine the same chance falling to Werner or Abraham. What odds would you give on the same outcome?
Werner played as if locked in battle with an internal clock. Giroud played as if he had all the time in the world.
Such a languid style undoubtedly exasperates. Giroud can give the impression that just being there is enough. Like pub players at Bishan Park, the participation is all that matters.
Giroud's approach isn't to everyone's taste, but he treats World Cup Finals in the same way he treats pre-season friendlies and obdurate defences in Atletico jerseys.
He's often the calmest man on the pitch. If a chance comes, he'll usually take it. After 16 years of top-flight football, his muscle memory rarely betrays him.
With a tight second leg still to come and a domestic target of a top-four finish, Tuchel will call upon his old warhorse in future close races.
The Chelsea manager expects the Blues to dominate possession, but clear-cut scoring opportunities remain precious commodities (hence his public frustration against Southampton).
Luckily, he still has a durable forward capable of holding up play and manufacturing stunning winners in cagey contests.
Giroud's contract is up after the season. Tuchel would be mad to let him go.