JONATHAN AFOLABI has hailed the nurturing influence of Celtic ace Leigh Griffiths as the Hoops starlet seeks to make his mark at Dunfermline.
Afolabi, 20, has arrived at East End Park on loan for the remainder of the season and, after being immediately handed the number 10 jersey, is likely to make his debut against Queen of the South this weekend.
The Ireland youth internationalist joined Celtic from Southampton last summer but is yet to make his first-team bow, largely training and playing for their reserves side.
However, Afolabi is adamant he has continued to develop during his time in Glasgow, particularly highlighting the benefits of training with ‘leader’ Griffiths during the Scotland star’s own period working with the second string.
Griffiths has now come in from the cold and has notched two goals in his last three outings – and Afolabi is determined to ripple the net with the same regularity in the Championship.
“Leigh Griffiths is someone who has been a massive help in my time with Celtic,” said the powerhouse front-man. “Every time he trained with the reserves, he would still have that level of intensity and quality.
“He was still sharp, he would speak to me and keep me in line. We’re both forwards and he is a great person to learn from.
“Leigh is a real leader. I still remember one reserves’ game when we played against Motherwell and I scored – but on the way back in at half-time he was still telling me things and giving me bits of advice on how to catch the manager’s eye.
“That’s why you want to be at a club like Celtic in the long-term. Learning from the best can only improve me and make me better.
“He has just got back into the team, is scoring goals again and I’m really happy for him.”
Afolabi added: “There is a lot of responsibility playing at Celtic. They basically need to win every game they play and the fans expect that from them.
“It’s good to be part of a club with those expectations and demands.”
Afolabi arrived in Glasgow with a fine reputation following an impressive showing at the European Under-19 Championship’s last year, helping Ireland reach the semi-finals. Hoops boss Neil Lennon stated he was ‘on the cusp’ of senior football.
However, he has been unable to make the breakthrough amid fierce competition for attacking places. Indeed, he is yet to play a competitive fixture in club football.
“It was a matter of timing for me,” he explained. “If the timing was right, and circumstances right, then I could have got a chance at Celtic, but they are doing very well at the moment.
“In the meantime, there are lots of ways for me to improve and show I can play at that level. Going on loan is a positive step towards that.
“It will be great to hit the ground running here but I know I’ll need to play my way into things. I’ve watched the league a couple of times and I want to impose my game at this level and offer myself to the teams and get on the scoresheet.
“My aim is to come in, cement a starting position and impress the manager.”
In a peculiar twist of fate, Afolabi’s first taste of Scottish football involved Dunfermline.
He signed his two-year deal on August 17, the same day that the Hoops faced the Pars in the Betfred Cup – and was in attendance to witness the Fifers give Lennon’s men an almighty fright.
The clash went to extra-time after a 1-1 draw and a 114-minute strike was required to see Celtic safely through.
“I think Dunfermline surprised everyone in the stadium that day!” he smiled, recalling the showdown.
“I thought Celtic would do what they normally do at home – so it was impressive to see Dunfermline put up that sort of fight, even if they fell short at the end, and shows the quality here.”