James Forrest glad to have clean slate under Brendan Rodgers

Celtic's James Forrest, left, with Lisbon Lion John Clark ahead of the game against Inter Milan in the International Champions Cup in Limerick. Picture: SNS
Celtic's James Forrest, left, with Lisbon Lion John Clark ahead of the game against Inter Milan in the International Champions Cup in Limerick. Picture: SNS
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When news emerged in February this year that James Forrest had turned down the offer of a new contract from Celtic, it was the cue for some of their supporters to turn on him.

The jeers directed at him for a few weeks, mostly when he was warming up as a substitute while he played a peripheral role for the Scottish champions during the last months of Ronny Deila’s reign as manager, hurt the winger who first joined Celtic’s academy as a nine-year-old.

Forrest admits he is unsure whether he would have remained at Celtic had Deila not parted company with the club at the end of last season.

But the 25-year-old Scotland international, who this week signed a new three-year contract as he relishes life under new boss Brendan Rodgers, insists his commitment to Celtic should never have been questioned.

“Nothing’s ever changed for me,” claimed Forrest. “I’ve always said I wanted to stay here. I’ve been here since I was nine and never wanted to leave. I made the club know that straight away. I’m just glad it’s done now. We’ve got a top-class manager here as well. When he came in, everyone had a clean slate. I’m impressed with him so far and just want to keep going.

“Different managers play different players. We’ve had a lot of players here as well and there’s been a lot of chopping and changing. Now I want to get my head down, keep working hard and look to the future.

“There were always rumours but I never said I wanted to leave the club. People close to me and inside the club knew that as well.

“It’s hard (when you are jeered). It wasn’t nice at that time. Folks maybe think things happened but I knew myself, and was obviously hoping I’d get a chance to show it, that I wanted to be here.

“We knew in April that there was going to be a new manager at the club and I was hoping then that when the new manager was in, there was going to be a clean slate and I could should him what I could do. I am just glad that happened.

“I can’t say that (I would still be here if Ronny Deila had stayed). I don’t know. When you come back from pre-season you never know and I was hoping to stay at this club.

“I told the new manager as soon as he came in that I wanted to stay. He just told me to go and impress like everyone else and that I’d get my chance. I’m glad I’ve done that and signed.

“He phoned me in the off season and said he’d seen me play before and liked the way I’d played. He just said to come back, that pre-season was going to be hard so to come back in good shape and to show him what I had.”

Forrest was effectively frozen out by Deila after rejecting that initial contract offer. His last starting appearance of the season came in the Scottish Cup tie against East Kilbride in February and he made just two substitute outings after that.

During his rejuvenation under Rodgers, he has featured in all six of the Irishman’s competitive fixtures so far, the former Liverpool boss clearly rating the pace, width and penetration Forrest can deliver when he is at the top of his game.

“The gaffer likes attacking football with an aggressive style of play and it’s been good for everyone so far,” said 
Forrest.

“It has been exciting since the start of pre-season. All of the boys have said the same thing and we have all enjoyed it.”

Forrest’s most celebrated contribution in a Celtic jersey so far came when he scored the stoppage-time winner which secured victory over Shakhter Karagandy and qualification for the group stage of the Champions League three years ago. After two years of disappointment in the competition under Deila, he is determined to help Rodgers achieve group stage football at the first attempt as Celtic approach the first leg of their play-off round tie against Hapoel Beer-Sheva next Wednesday.

“To get into the Champions League is the main ambition for us this season,” he added. “I’ve played in a lot of European games before and I’m ready for that. We have two games left to get into the Champions League so we’re going to give everything to do that.”