WHATEVER else happened when he was in Vegas, Kris Commons stayed oblivious to it in Vegas.
The Celtic attacker had the most talked about summer break of any player in this country. Tweeting a picture taken in first class of team-mates Joe Ledley, Fraser Forster and Adam Matthews as they flew out to the Nevada desert for a lads’ jolly made sure of that. Well, it did when the trip was only a matter of days after retiring from Scotland duty to spend more time with his family. The excruciating timing of his snap, publicised just as it seemed a depleted national side were about to receiving a doing in Croatia (only to go and record a remarkable win) ensured he was understandably criticised by the media and the masses. The 29-year-old hasn’t spent his summer fretting over his name being taken in vain, though.
“To be honest with you, I don’t give a monkeys,” he said, claiming to have been unaware of the row, having had his phone “switched off”.
“I got three weeks off, 21 days. I’ve got friends that I spent four days with and I’ve spent the rest with my family and I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it and I’m raring to go with Celtic now. Every single day, it doesn’t matter if I’m walking down the street someone will have a go at me. It doesn’t really matter to me.”
“No, not for one second,” replies Commons, who has three children under the age of four, when asked if he regretted telling Gordon Strachan he didn’t want to be selected for a country he represented 12 times having qualified through a grandparent. “It wasn’t an overnight decision, this has been [in my mind] for months and months since the [Craig] Levein era,” he said. “We had a good conversation, we ended on good terms but he did say the door is still open. Inevitably, I can’t just walk into a team, I’d have to be playing well to get into a team. At this minute in time I’ve got a beautiful family that I want to spend as much time with as possible.”
Commons did not watch Scotland’s herculean efforts in Zagreb. “In the three weeks off, I saw no football,” he said. But he claimed to be “absolutely delighted” about it.
“[And] even more chuffed for the likes of Tony Watt getting the experience to go over there, mixing with the big boys and gathering that experience because this year I think will be a big year for him. For our boys travelling away, I was delighted for them.”
For his club, Commons accepts that the next six weeks will bring the most important games of a season in which he has declared Champions League group stage qualification and a domestic treble the targets. Celtic will discover their opponents for the second qualifying round of the Champions League tomorrow. With this round loosely regionalised they could possibly face Welsh title holders The New Saints, Cliftonville from Northern Ireland, Sligo Rovers from south of the border, Icelandic champions FH Hafnarfjordur, EB Streymur of the Faroes or Estonia’s Nomme Kalju. The ties will be played on 16 or 17 and 23 or 24 July, with the third qualifying round contested in the following two midweeks.
If they can negotiate those rounds, the play-off round is at the end of August.
“I’m not really fussed who we get – Irish, Welsh, Icelandic – it doesn’t really matter to us,” Commons said. “We’ll do enough research on the team and identify how we can beat them. It’s like any other game in Europe where I’ll be looking forward to it and for the occasion again.”
An early return to training is crucial to being prepared for whatever challenge is thrown up, believes Commons. “Everyone’s gone off and had their holidays, people have got married, we’ve made new signings, got new kit. So, yes, we’re back into it now,” he said. “It’s been a good couple of weeks, but it was nice to get back into it on Thursday. You need to get up to a level where you are competing in Europe right from the off. Previously, when I wasn’t here, against the likes of Braga [in 2010] the team did struggle. So, the manager’s kind of identified that we need to come back in at the right time, in good enough shape, to make sure we go straight into the good stuff in training rather than spending two weeks running, getting fit, getting healthy.”
The determination to be in the sort of rude health that will return Neil Lennon’s side to the Champions League group stages that brought them such glee last season is, Commons considers, reflected in the signings of Portuguese striker Amido Balde and Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk.
“I think obviously the manager and coaching staff have identified the targets we need, getting them in quick so they are around the lads, involved in team bonding and then away for pre-season training.
“It’s not long before we’re into the biggest games of the season and if the new signings are going to make us better then we need them in and around the current players as much as possible, so we’re comfortable with them and get to know their games.
“We want them to be clicking right from the start.”