JAMES FORREST would not now be a Celtic player had it not been for the arrival of Brendan Rodgers as Celtic manager. The winger was one of the few Celtic players he inherited from Ronny Deila’s large squad who had attracted the new manager’s attention while down south.
The Irishman was confused about the appearance stats he looked at for the player some are now calling the Prestwick Pele! These told him that he had a very talented player who was going nowhere fast at Celtic.
Forrest was reported to be on his way to the Premier League but the player, sensibly kept quiet and while not committing to a new deal, waited to see what was going to happen at the club at the end of Ronny’s second and last season as manager.
That proved to be a wise decision for Forrest and a fortunate one for the new boss. Brendan Rodgers yesterday spoke about how he managed to convince Jamesy to stay on at Celtic and praised him for some quite remarkable achievements in a Celtic jersey, with a promise of much more to come too!
“When I accepted the role I made a few calls. I wanted to get round and talk to players and I was aware of where he was at with his contract,” Brendan recalled.
“So I spoke to him on the phone and told him I’d seen him break into the team with Neil Lennon and always liked him.
“I thought he was dynamic and skilful and looked like he had an end product.
“You know, he wasn’t the type of player to do 50 tricks on the ball and then lose it. He was effective and a really good player.
“He hadn’t played many games the season before I came in, but when I spoke to him on the phone I reassured him that we could work well together.
Forrest is very well liked not only by his manager but also by his team-mates, although he’s often been at the wrong end of stick from supporters. That too is changing and not before time too. Brendan clearly likes Forrest as a person.
“He has a lovely smile, James, he’s a great boy who is really relaxed.
“Everybody loves him here. His temperament is wonderful.
“So I sat him down and said to him: It’s like you’ve been on loan for two years, where have you been?
“We had a nice little joke, me him and Browny,” Brendan recalled.
When is someone going to say to Brendan that it’s Broony not Browny? Anyway, back to what he was saying.
“I had met Browny previous to my first day of training, but, when I was walking up the stairs, he was with James.
“I shook Browny’s hand and then shook James’ hand and said: It’s nice to meet you.
“I then said to Browny: Listen, will you do me a favour? If you see James Forrest, can you tell him that the manager absolutely loves him and that he wants to have a little chat with him because he’s obviously been on loan for a couple of years but I want him back to play.
“That gave him a little chuckle and he was up and running. We built up a rapport from day one and that is what football is about.
“It’s about developing the strengths of players. James’ strengths are one-v-ones and taking people on, scoring goals.
“I just had to stimulate him to know that he has to be part of a team and from that, in pre-season, he was arguably our best player.
And cleverly Brendan then addresses the ‘stick’ that Forrest has had to endure without actually directly mentioning it. Such a clever manager.
“I really think that Celtic supporters should really be enjoying watching him now.
“The stat that really hit me was the Bobby Lennox one. Everyone knows the esteem in which Bobby is held in.
“So, for his record not to have been equalled up until James, really shows the level in which the kid is playing at.”
Forrest’s performance in the biggest stage against Bayern Munich was verging on world class. He had no criticism coming his way that night an a few minds were changed too as a result of such a wonderful Champions league showing.
“Against Bayern Munich at home, he was sensational really. He’s one of the best I’ve ever worked with in terms of taking the ball so tight to the line. He has the ability to beat people on the inside or outside and he’s also got different ways of finishing.
“He just has to ensure he stays at this high level. Wingers are so important at this level. They can’t afford to switch off. Tactically, they have to participate in the game all the time.
“My teams have always had speed, power and been technically good. Tactically, they have an unpredictability. Wingers give you that.
“At Swansea, we had Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer who were brilliant for me. At Liverpool I had Sterling and Coutinho, dynamic players that don’t waste time getting at people.
“That’s why we play not just with wingers, but with aggressive wingers.”
Rodgers certainly feels that, despite his achievements to-date, the best is yet to come from the 26 year old Forrest.
“He’s been around for a long time, but I think because of the measure of the expectancy here at Celtic is that in a lot of those years when people have criticised him he was a really young player.
“He was a young guy who broke onto the scene, playing in big games.
“But he’s an absolutely brilliant player and Celtic will see the best of him.
“He’s been absolutely brilliant. He is into double figures for goals for the first time. He is a player who can get between 15 and 20 goals over a season. And, in my time here, James has been a joy to work with.”
Forrest has a habit of scoring important goals for Celtic. Even on Saturday his first goal, Celtic’s third, killed any thoughts that Motherwell had of mounting an unlikely fightback.
He’s scored in both this season’s and last year’s Betfred Cup Final, he got the all important goal in Norway in the Champions League qualifiers and no-one should be surprised if he does the same tonight to help Celtic secure their objective from European football this season.
*Jim Craig will be participating in a Q&A session on CQN tomorrow evening. His new Lisbon Lion Diary, Right Back to 67 is out tomorrow on CQN Books.
You can order a signed copy now at CQNBookstore.co.uk and if you would like a personal dedication added just drop an email after placing your order to [email protected] and we’ll get Jim to sort on Wednesday.
All pre-ordered books will be posted first thing Thursday morning.
*JIM CRAIG – RIGHT BACK TO 67, THE LISBON LION DIARY is published this week by CQN Books. You still have time to get a SIGNED copy by ordering at www.cqnbookstore.co.uk and if you would like a personal dedication added to your book by Jim then simply email your massage to [email protected] after ordering and we’ll do the rest!
The book arrives on Wednesday and it is sensational! And if you haven’t done so already, listen to Jim Craig on the CQN Podcast below. You will love it!