AS HE watches one of his closest friends and compatriots flourishing in the highest echelon of English football, Adam Matthews might be excused a few pangs of envy.
But the Celtic defender insists he is content to bide his time and gently nurse his own ambitions of following the same career trajectory as his Welsh international team-mate Joe Ledley.
Since Ledley’s departure to Crystal Palace in January, no-one has felt his absence at the Scottish champions more keenly than Matthews.
“Of course he’s been missed – for a start, I’ve had to find a new driving buddy,” said the 22-year-old full-back. “But in all seriousness, he is missed in the team. We all wanted him to stay, but the circumstances [with his contract running out in the summer] were such that he had to go.”
There were many who questioned Ledley’s choice of club on the final day of the transfer window as he joined a Palace side who were still among the firm favourites to be relegated from the Premier League.
The left-sided midfielder, however, has been a significant factor in the remarkable turnaround in fortunes at Selhurst Park engineered by manager Tony Pulis. Ledley has been an ever-present in the Premier League since his arrival, helping Palace surge out of the danger zone and towards a potential top half of the table finish.
“Joe has done really well and we are all pleased for him,” added Matthews. “He will still be in the Premier League next season, which is brilliant for him.
“I don’t think many people saw it coming at Palace, the way they’ve stormed up the table, but the manager recruited well in January with the likes of Joe, Scott Dann and Tom Ince coming in. He got players who are capable of operating at that level. Joe showed for us at Celtic in the Champions League how good he is and we knew he would do well in England’s top flight if he went there. He’s done brilliantly and I speak to him regularly because he’s a good mate of mine off the pitch.
“But I haven’t really thought about playing in the Premier League myself. I’ve still got two seasons left on my contract with Celtic and I’m happy here. I’m just looking forward to playing for Celtic again next season and helping us do well.”
Qualification for the Champions League group stage will again be Celtic’s priority and Matthews hopes he will be playing in a tournament where the defending champions will be a team which includes another of his Welsh colleagues. He may even travel to Lisbon later this month to cheer on Gareth Bale and his Real Madrid team-mates in the Champions League Final.
“I’m really hoping Gareth can go on and win the trophy for the first time,” said Matthews. “Not just for him, but for Welsh football in general. It would be fantastic for the country.
“Real played really well in the semi-final against Bayern Munich on Tuesday night. They showed how good they are going forward and Gareth is a big part of that. Bayern had most possession but Real were just too quick on the counter attack.
“I haven’t asked Gareth for tickets for the final yet, but I think that text message might be on the way to him shortly.”
Matthews’ own season has been disrupted by a series of injuries as hamstring, shoulder and calf problems have prevented him reaching the levels of consistency he desires.
“It’s been my worst ever campaign for injuries,” he said. “I came into it still with a hamstring problem and it took me a while to get going. Then I had the dislocated shoulder which kept me out for a couple of months.
“But I’ve still played a part over the course of the season and the team has done well, which is the main thing. In the cups, we let ourselves down, but our league form has been the best since I joined the club three years ago.
“There is maybe a little bit of frustration at how we performed in the cups, but the league was always the priority and we’ve managed to win it well. Hopefully, we can put it all together next season.”
Celtic host Aberdeen on Saturday, the Pittodrie side having beaten them twice this season – including eliminating them from the Scottish Cup at Parkhead in February. But Matthews insists there is no added incentive to set the record straight against the Dons this weekend.
“We try to win every game, so we’re not going to try any harder against Aberdeen,” he said. “They’ve done well against us this season and always made it tough, but, hopefully, we can show how good we are on Saturday and get the win.”
Matthews’ season is likely to be extended by international duty as he is scheduled to join Ledley and Bale in the Welsh side for a daunting international friendly against Holland in the Amsterdam Arena on 4 June. “I hope to be in that squad,” he said. “If I’m chasing Arjen Robben around the pitch, it will help me get some of my fitness back!
“I’ll only have a short break this summer, with the Champions League qualifiers for Celtic starting on 15 July, but that should actually help me. I’ll get a couple of weeks off, then I’ll start working again because I want to go into the season fresh and ready.
“It’s maybe a bit harsh on Celtic to have to play three qualifying rounds to reach the group stage of the Champions League, but that’s just the way it is. It’s tough, but also enjoyable. We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, so it’s about focus and getting the job done.”
BT Sport Q&A: Rangers | Hibs | Neil Lennon
THIS week’s BT Sport video Q&A looks at whether Rangers fans will buy season tickets and if the club’s supporters will force a change of ownership.
The form of Hibs under Terry Butcher is also examined following the Easter Road side’s derby defeat while the future of Neil Lennon is also considered following the announcement that his assistant Johan Mjallby is to depart at the end of the season.
• Email your Scottish football question for the BT Sport panel to answer. The next show will be recorded on May 7 after St Johnstone v Celtic with the video available on The Scotsman website the following day. You can also tweet us @TheScotsman.
A line-up of experts will handle your questions after each BT Sport game. Most match days, the team includes Darrell Currie, Derek Rae and Gary McAllister.
Over this season, BT Sport will air 30 SPFL matches plus 10 Rangers games from the SPFL League One.
• T&C We can not guarantee which presenters will answer your questions. Questions are vetted and no correspondence will be entered into.