WHILE a league title, Champions League group stage qualification and the very realistic possibility of being named PFA Scotland player of the year would amount to a successful season for most players, Kris Commons is not most players.
His nomination amongst the four players shortlisted for the award is proof of how extraordinary he is. So it is perhaps no surprise when he “uhms” and “ahhs” when asked to reflect on a season in which he has scored an impressive total of 23 goals, helping Celtic to a third successive league title and to the Champions League group stage in the process. Whether or not he wins the personal award for best player, Commons says he will walk away “with mixed emotions” at the season’s end.
“I suppose this has been my best-ever season, certainly in a goals-to-game ratio,” he said. “On the flip side, though, I’d have loved to have been involved in both cups.
“With the finals being played at Celtic Park, it would have been great to have been involved in that and finish the season on a high,” he added. “So I’ll probably come away from this campaign with mixed emotions.”
Home defeats to Morton and Aberdeen in both domestic cup competitions have cast long shadows at Celtic Park, Commons admitted. “When you play for a club like Celtic – and especially when you have such a good team as this one – you want to win the treble,” he said. “That puts you among the elite.
“It’s only been done by two teams in the club’s long history. It’s also bordering on the near-impossible because you’re having to balance a tricky third-round tie when you might have a Champions League tie the following midweek.”
While Commons would surely acknowledge that defeating struggling Morton at home while in the midst of Champions League engagements should be far from “near impossible”, Celtic did succeeded in the priorities of winning the Premiership title and making it through the qualifying stages of the Champions League. Commons has more than played his part, and remains favourite to come out on top, ahead of team-mates Fraser Forster, Virgil van Dijk as well as Kilmarnock’s Kris Boyd, when the winner of the player of the year vote is revealed later this month. But something will still niggle with Commons should he be the one who is stepping up at the dinner on 27 April to the sound of applause from his peers.
“We did both [won the league title and qualified for the Champions League group stage] and that’s great but you also want cup victories,” he said. “You want more medals in the cabinet and that’s probably the only negative for us this season. Other teams have improved and become stronger, Aberdeen definitely have, and given us good games home and away. I think it’s been a competitive league, although our points total makes everyone else look as if they’re a million miles away. But that’s not the full story. The remarkable run we went on earlier in the season, when we kept all those clean sheets, put a lot of distance between us and the rest.”
Commons helped in no small way as well, scoring 14 goals by the end of the year, despite missing a few weeks due to a hamstring injury. He has continued this run of form in the second half of the season, and is clearly relishing playing in a position further forward, having been handed a more central role by manager Neil Lennon.
“From a personal point of view I’ve never played in such an advanced position before,” he said. “For the best part of this season we’ve played with just the one striker and I’ve been given the licence to get in the box, which I hadn’t been used to.
I’ve scored a lot more goals from the 12-yard range than I’ve been used to. It’s all been down to circumstances – I think if Gary Hooper had stayed then I’d probably have been on the wing.
“That’s more of a natural role for me but, since Leigh Griffiths came into the side, we’ve tried to play with three really attacking players and score as many goals as we can,” he added.
One of the more onerous tasks of the season has been selecting his own player of the year from the ranks of opposition players. Commons explains that it is hard to judge a player who is playing against Celtic, since the champions’ dominance means few have the chance to shine against them.
He did, however, plump for Kris Boyd, even though none of his 19 goals were scored against Celtic. Stevie May got his young player of the year nomination.
“It’s hard for us to judge,” he said. “You tend to look at the top goalscorers but there aren’t many teams who enjoy much possession against us – we usually have 65-70 per cent of it. That makes it hard for opposing players to show exactly what they’re capable of and hard for us to pick out someone who’s been outstanding. We rely on watching Sportscene and trying to pick out what everyone is doing around us because they’re not usually doing it against us.”
Although he can sound frustrated at falling short in some areas, Commons is satisfied with his career to date, from Stoke trainee to potential player-of-the-year material. “Starting out at 18 with Stoke, I never dreamed of playing in the Champions League or playing for big clubs so, for me, everything is a bonus,” he said.
“Winning cups, winning titles, playing in Europe – it’s all a bonus for me. The better a player you become the more ambitious you become. First of all, you’re just trying to make a living out of the game but, if you’re exceptionally talented, then you can start to think about the Champions League and World Cups.”
Just how exceptional Commons is will be revealed later this month. Should he win the award, Scotland’s player of the year may find there is renewed pressure for him to return to the international fold, having retired a year ago.