Olivier Giroud is very good at football. He is also very good at Monopoly and Scrabble. If he could pick just four words in the famous letter game to sum up his career, he would probably go with redemption, adversity, perseverance and faith.
Those four would bring him quite a lot of points in Scrabble, especially if he hit a double or treble square. They are also the words that have made his footballing career successful and the ones that have marked his latest renaissance. Since the return of the Premier League in June, he has been among the best players in the division, having scored five goals in the seven games he started (nine appearances in all) since the restart.
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The past seven months have been a microcosm of his footballing career. At Chelsea, like previously at Grenoble, Istres or Tours in the French lower divisions, at Montpellier in Ligue 1 or even at Arsenal in the Premier League, his story has always been one involving those four words. Proving critics wrong, winning over sceptics — including sometimes his own managers — silencing doubters and nullifying haters. Giroud has continually had to prove himself, and each time he seems to do so.
His latest redemption job has taken place at Stamford Bridge, where he has gone from outcast to unlikely hero. His goals since Project Restart will probably take the team into the Champions League next season and maybe win the club another FA Cup, too (stream the FA Cup final, Aug. 1 on ESPN+ in the U.S.). This is just the latest remarkable chapter in the Frenchman’s impressive career.
What has been the recipe for yet another redemption? Mixed salads, cooking, family and hard work. Giroud used the pandemic-forced break to get as fit as possible for whenever football would return. When it did, his fitness tests were outstanding, among the best in the whole Chelsea squad, and his determination was unparalleled in Frank Lampard’s squad. He was ready to keep fighting and cement his place as the No. 1 striker in the team.
At the turn of the year, he showed Lampard that he could rely on him. He scored against Tottenham in a huge game on Feb. 22, after having not started since November. After three months of minimal game time, Spurs was his chance, and maybe his last one. The Frenchman not only handled the pressure but grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He scored again against Everton and for the first game of the restart against Aston Villa, he was given the nod up front over Tammy Abraham. The Frenchman was ready, in case his number was called and again he seized the opportunity with both hands.
What is fascinating with Giroud is that his own disappointments always turn into something positive. Where other players could lose it, give up, throw a tantrum or clash with their manager, he finds in him the strength to make something good out from a difficult situation. Very early in the season, he realised that he wouldn’t play much. Tammy Abraham was scoring and emerging as the potential leader of the Blues’ retooled attack. Lampard didn’t give Giroud a look, even dropping him completely from the matchday squad on a few occasions.
Yet, Giroud never lost his focus or professionalism. To the people around him, he kept saying that he was going to keep working hard to change the mind of the Chelsea boss. There was always respect between Giroud and Lampard. Not much talking or dialogue, and even when Lampard and Chelsea blocked his move to Inter Milan in January, things between the pair remained cordial. Giroud could have gone mad. Antonio Conte wanted him in Italy and was offering him a get-out-of-jail card. The Frenchman wanted to leave and the Blues had promised to let him go. And with the 2020 European Championships just six months away, he could not afford to stay and not play. Once he was forced to remain at the club, he got even more determined to win over Lampard. Eventually he did.
Having been in this situation before helped him. Nothing has never been easy or straightforward in his career and that’s why success tastes so nice for him. Back home, 10 years ago when he joined Montpellier for €1.8 million, no one could have predicted what followed: a World Cup, a Europa League, a French title, four FA Cups, 97 caps for France (39 goals).
In September, Giroud will celebrate his 34th birthday. No one knows how things will be then, but regardless, the Frenchman will be able to look back on his 33rd year with great pride. He did it again. When the adversity was at its highest, he persevered, kept the faith and his redemption came. The four key words, always.