James Forrest 21 Midfielder Celtic
Perhaps expectations were a little too high this time last year, but we assumed, James Forrest would be a star of Neil Lennon’s Celtic side by now. Instead Forrest has flattered to deceive on too regular a basis.
Given the slowly deteriorating standard of the Scottish Premier League and Scottish football in general, Forrest stood out as a diamond in the rough when he was named as a member of The 100 a year ago. He looked every bit a sure-fire match winner for Lennon’s Celts against every manner of opposition for 2012.
A thoroughbred winger, the odd few games are likely to pass Forrest by. That happens to even the best wide footballers in the world. Their time and influence over matches can ebb and flow depending on tactics, conditions and more importantly, the opposition full-back having a storming game. And yet, James hasn’t produced enough match winning performances in the last 12 months to properly justify the hype. There were glimpses of the good last season. With Commons struggling, Forrest was able to step up in his place and produce enough.
But he hasn’t forced the rest of the SPL to sit up, take note and then sigh about Celtic possessing yet another truly capable match winner in their ranks. He did have a pretty reasonable time of things in 2011/12 but with the Scottish leagues in desperate condition, teams should be his to bamboozle with just the right levels of pace, incision and intent. Of course, clubs are aware of him but in recent months, he’s struggled to nail down a consistent starting berth on the right so they’ve more than likely turned their attention to those actually playing.
Forrest has been solid through 2012 in his play. As was shown in a few games when played in a central position, his repertoire of skills can look a little limited when he is moved too far from the touchline. He has pace to burn, enough trickery to flick the ball beyond the full-back and enough confidence in his left foot that he can, at the very least to mix it up, cut inside to attack. His final delivery isn’t bad either; but more may have been expected.
When the likes of Barcelona came knocking this year, Forrest wasn’t the first name on the team sheet for Neil Lennon as he thought about masterminding a famous result against the Catalan giants. He wasn’t even the 11th. Instead, he started both games against Lionel Messi and company on the bench. Forrest could only watch on as fellow youngsters Victor Wanyama and Anthony Watt scored the vital goals and made the headlines.
Defensively Forrest can be seen to be a little lazy. It’s a trait that grabs quite a few Celtic and Rangers players as the level of the SPL means they get away with it more often than not. Unfortunately for James, it means that in European competition and internationally for Scotland, he can’t be counted on to do the hard work before breaking forward.
Going forward however there are few as potentially frightening as Forrest in the Celtic squad, in Scottish football and maybe even coming through the ranks of Europe’s elite squads. He’s developed into something more than a one-dimensional winger reliant on out-pacing his marker but when his club and country are in retreat, it’s where Forrest lets himself down.
He can’t be relied on to “do a job” like Scott Brown, Kris Commons or Georgios Samaras can. When Neil Lennon sends out the aforementioned three; he knows that they can trust them to be disciplined when they have to be. There is a danger those big experiences, those big moments and those big nights are going to pass Forrest by.
It’s not all completely bad. At the start of the year, Forrest was said to on the shopping list of at least one Premier League club; so he is doing enough to spike a little interest. The move had it came off would have been a disaster move for such an unfinished player. In recent months, he signed a deal that will keep him around Celtic Park until 2016. That should give him enough time and security to get his head down, work hard and iron out all the kinks in his game.
Should he do that, we suspect he’ll go beyond his right wing contemporary Aiden McGeady. Until he does, he’s probably going to remain in McGeady’s shadow. A nearly-ran. An impact player that stutters around the Celtic squad until his current deal runs out and then joins a top-half SPL side or someone pushing for promotion in England’s League One.
Right now, James Forrest is a big step away from getting that to that next level of ability. He had a strong end to last season but it hasn’t been helped with a string of niggling injuries interrupting his playing time and his chances to play for Scotland this season. He is still a big leap from being really good and potentially relying less on the speed that will eventually abandon him. It’s been a perfectly even-footed year but 2013 needs to be much, much bigger for him to leave a mark on world football.
“Played a large part in Celtic's title win last season but has since faded out, struggling with fitness and consistency. Still to make the leap from good to great.” - Michael Gunn (tictactic)
“One of the most exciting players Scotland has produced in years. Fast but doesn't rely purely on pace to beat a man, good delivery and even added a goal threat to his game last year.” - Simon Furnivall (Lovely Left Foot)
C- Grab this league by the scruff of the neck
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