Kris Commons has come a long way since suffering second season syndrome. This is the condition that affects players who struggle to return to the heights reached in a first season, or, in Commons’ case, a first half-season.
The midfielder, who was crowned Cheque Centre PFA Scotland player of the year on Sunday night, described feeling as though he was in a “dark tunnel” during his second campaign with Celtic, when he flitted in and out of the side due to injury and loss of form. The frustration he felt at this downturn in fortunes after beginning his Celtic career amid a flurry of goals – he scored 14 times between his arrival in January 2011 and the end of the season – was evidenced when he was sent off at Tynecastle during this less straightforward second campaign.
This early bath, which was earned for a wild lunge on then Hearts player Adrian Mrowiec while Celtic were trailing by one goal, came after he had been handed an unexpected first-team start. Manager Neil Lennon was among those unhappy with his contribution at that point and there were even reports of a bust-up between Commons and a member of the coaching staff, although these were denied and then also sent-up when he turned up for training one morning heavily swathed in bandages. But there was no question that he was toiling to live up to his earlier promise.
Remarkably, he picked up as many red cards as he did goals in this second term – one. This sole strike did come in a victory over Rangers, but one goal in 31 appearances is a world away from his current total of 28, a figure which helped him emerge victorious on Sunday evening ahead of team-mates Fraser Forster and Virgil van Dijk, and also Kilmarnock’s Kris Boyd.
“In the second year I picked up a few injuries and I was on the bench quite a bit, not getting enough game time,” he reflected yesterday, the day after the night before, when he picked up the award from former Scotland skipper Gary McAllister.
“I was probably trying too hard to emulate what had happened the season before,” he added. “The harder you try the worse you play. It was a frustrating time but you don’t always stay in that position. I thought I’d get back to my best.
“It’s a matter of time and you hope you’ll come out the other end, to get goals and be a part of it again,” he continued. “That was the year I didn’t feel part of the main starting 11. I was on the bench quite a bit, I had a few injuries and picked up a silly red card at Hearts out of frustration.
“That was a learning curve for myself. I’d never been in that position when I wasn’t making an impact in games. I was kind of an outcast. That soon changed and I finished the season on a high. I feel blessed to be in this position because, in the second season, I was in what felt like a dark tunnel. Now I feel on top of the world.”
He denied that he ever felt like moving away from the club, and now in the prime of his career, Commons maintains that he wishes to stay with Celtic for longer than the year he has left on his current contract. Talks are expected to begin later this summer, possibly before Commons heads off for one of the sunshine breaks he believes have helped him become the player of the year.
The question of his future Scotland intentions has lingered in the background since Commons announced his decision to withdraw his name from selection for international squads towards the end of last season. Perhaps only in Scotland could there be such a frustrating state of affairs in which a current players’ player of the year, one who is eligible to play for Scotland and has several times in the past, is now unavailable to manager Gordon Strachan.
Commons firmly believes that his decision to eschew trips with Scotland to spend time with his family has contributed to his currently equable state of mind and body. He described the international experience as “unbelievable” but provided no indication that he was preparing to do an about-turn. While his former Scottish international team-mates gather at the end of the season for a friendly international against Nigeria, he will be heading elsewhere.
“I’ll not be doing anything too crazy or strenuous,” he said. “I will probably go away to Spain with the family for a couple of weeks and chill out there. I think it is important to get your feet up and unwind, look back on the season and then that gives you a burning feeling to go back and emulate, if not better, your previous year.”
Of course, this season is not yet over, while the next one will begin before we know it. Celtic return to pre-season training on 24 June, midway through the World Cup finals, and then must prepare for a first Champions League qualifier the following month – at Murrayfield. The rugby stadium has been hired by Celtic because Celtic Park is being used to host the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, and Commons seems unfazed by the prospect of playing such vital matches there. He has never been there, nor, he added, even seen it, but he is sure it will prove a home from home for Celtic.
“We will have to see what the pitch is like when we come to it, but I’ve no doubt our fans will make it as homely as possible,” he said. “Wherever we travel, home or away, our support is tremendous and it’s the fans that get you up for the game. When they make a racket you tend to lift your game and it puts the opposition on the back foot. I’ve certainly got no problems playing at Murrayfield.”
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.