TO the outside observer, it is one of the great mysteries of 2020, up there with silver monoliths popping up in the middle of the desert. Just how is it that Leigh Griffiths, a professional footballer who trains almost every day, is still considered by his manager to be lacking sufficient fitness to start football matches?

The player himself is trapped in a classic Catch 22 situation. Griffiths argues that he can’t reach full match fitness without playing more games, while Neil Lennon argues he isn’t fit enough in any sense to be afforded that opportunity on a regular basis.

The Celtic manager rather charitably calls the impasse ‘a difference of opinion’, but in such matters where there is disagreement between a coach and his player, it is rarely the player who wins the argument.

When addressing Griffiths’ comments on his conditioning after his goalscoring cameo from the bench in the Scottish Cup Final on Sunday, Lennon was asked if he thinks his player is lacking basic fitness or simply match fitness, as he argues.

“Both,” came Lennon’s response. “General conditioning and match fitness.

“I don’t know if he’s fit enough to do a full 90 minutes yet. That’s where I stand on it. I think he’s fit enough to play a chunk of games.

“He’s training every day but I think he can maybe push himself a little more. Griff has tunnel vision, he can be quite belligerent and he has great belief in himself. This isn’t him and I falling out over anything. I think he can get fitter.

“Maybe he thinks he can get fitter by playing more of the games but I think in between games or if he’s not playing as much he can do a little bit more. He may disagree with that but it’s just a difference of opinion, probably.

“I was delighted with his contribution at Hampden. I’m not totally convinced that he’s fit but he’ll be fit enough to play and add something to the games as we go along.

“But I’m very pleased with him: he did what he always does – he sniffed out a good chance and his reaction to the second ball was brilliant. I’m delighted for him.

“He’s a huge asset. I want him fit and hungry, which he definitely is. He’s a natural born footballer and he’s a great personality to have around the place as well.

‘You could see what it meant to him on Sunday. He was cock-a-hoop to have made a contribution and won a cup. He’s not done that for a while. Hopefully it gives him a huge shot in the arm going forward.”

Lennon’s anger towards Griffiths after turning up for summer training woefully out of shape has now dissipated into more of a mild concern, but even when he was spitting feathers at the striker, he says he never considered letting such a talent slip through Celtic’s grasp.

“No, I just wanted him to get fitter,” he said. “I was annoyed with him. He knew he had let himself down but he’s knuckled down and he is doing a lot better.

“He’s a goalscoring phenomenon and that’s why I kept him around. He will get the opportunity going forward, there’s no question of that.

“Leigh’s just a natural, a born goalscorer and he’s still a fantastic finisher. It would have been remiss of me to let him go or think of loaning him out because we still thought he could make a positive impact for the remainder of the season.

“Do I feel vindicated? I will maybe assess that at the end of the season. I want him to play. I want him to contribute more and score more goals and get consistency in his fitness and performance levels.”

One of the beneficial by-products of Griffiths roaring back to something approaching peak condition around this same time last year was the prolific partnership he sparked up in the Celtic attack with Odsonne Edouard.

Given the rampant run that Celtic then went on, and that a similar charge will be required if the champions are to have any hope of reeling in Rangers at the top of the Premiership, Lennon is understandably keen to have the option of reuniting the pair at the sharp end of the pitch.

“It was very good,” Lennon said.

“Even then, I felt there was more to come from him, and then the season was cut short. But he was in a good place then and I just want him to get back there now.”

Meanwhile, Lennon is struggling to wrap his head around the fact that he is set to take on a Ross County side tonight under new management, with Stuart Kettlewell sacked just a fortnight after dumping Celtic out of the Betfred Cup.

A league run of no wins in 10 eventually saw him replaced by John Hughes, but Lennon had words of encouragement for Kettlewell.

“I spoke to him on Saturday night,” he said. “I gave him a call.

“I congratulated him on a really good first stint in his managerial career. He’s a good lad and he sets his team out very well. He’s got his badge of honour now. You’re guaranteed one thing in this job and that’s the sack at some stage.

“I had a chat with him and said we all go through this and hopefully he comes back stronger. I hope to see him back in the game soon.

“We are a funny breed. You need to be verging on masochistic. But we do it because we love it.

“We want to win, we want to make our team better. We want to make our contribution to a game that has been so good to us. Stuart Kettlewell definitely falls into that bracket.”