Commons stays true to word over international exile
The Celtic attacking midfielder is currently in the form of his life, a leading candidate for this season’s Player of the Year honours after scoring 26 goals so far for the Scottish champions. Commons struck a hat-trick in Celtic’s 3-0 win over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park last Friday night, prompting his club manager Lennon to say he would ask the 30-year-old to reconsider his position on the national team.
Capped 12 times for Scotland, Commons announced his international retirement last May in order to spend more time with his partner Lisa and their three young children.
Lennon believes Commons still has “a lot to offer” for Gordon Strachan’s Scotland squad who will begin their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign later this year.
But the player believes his decision has been vindicated, both by his form this season for Celtic and the additional hours he has been able to enjoy with his family, and has no intention of performing a U-turn.
“No, I’m not of a mind to do that,” said Commons. “When I was going away with Scotland, I was coming back stiff with niggles and little injury problems which I felt had an effect on my playing ability for Celtic. I don’t think there is any more desire from myself to keep doing something like that, compared to something which I did want to do which is spending time with my family.
“That finally hit me when my youngest boy was taken into hospital last year when I was with Scotland. I felt like I was a million miles away. I’d had to fly to another country with Scotland and wasn’t playing and I just felt it wasn’t for me. Apart from football, family is the most important thing for me.”
While Commons no longer wants to play for Scotland, he is keen to stay in Scotland. There is an element of uncertainty over his future at the moment, with his current Celtic contract due to expire at the end of the season.
The club have yet to confirm they will be taking up their option of another year, but Commons is hopeful of securing a longer-term deal at Parkhead where he has been a conspicuous success since signing from Derby County in January 2011.
“The way the manager is talking, he wants me here for the next five years and then I’m going to be on his coaching staff,” said Commons with a smile. “That would be nice! But it’s obviously out of my hands. People above Neil Lennon at the club will tell him the ins and outs (of my contract) and he will have his own opinion.
“I think once the season is out of the way we will be able to sit down and figure something out. It would be nice to stay a lot longer because I feel good and I love playing for the club.
“There is certainly no pressure on me to go back down to England. We are already looking at schools around Glasgow for the kids. They are already in nurseries and pre-school. My oldest is four now and she will be going to primary school soon to start her education.
“My kids are close together in terms of age, so that’s always at the back of my mind. But I think you have to sort out the football first and then your family arrangements around that.”
Commons admits his prolific goalscoring this season has come as a surprise to him. Of his tally of 26, 21 have come in the Premiership, where he tops the scoring charts, three ahead of Kilmarnock striker Kris Boyd. He has helped fill the void left by last summer’s sale of Gary Hooper to Norwich City. “I have been put into a more forward-thinking position since Gary left,” added Commons. “But I came into the season thinking I would play left or right midfield, or drift into the hole behind the striker and get some shots away. But, from a more realistic point of view, I just felt double figures would be a more realistic return for a player like me.
“However, with Gary leaving it has left a bit more space for me. I play a bit more advanced now and we play with one striker up front and the onus is on myself and a few other midfielders to try and get into the box to score more goals. That probably encapsulates the second goal at Kilmarnock on Friday, where, somehow, I’ve got into the six-yard box for a tap-in.
“Maybe I’m over-achieving in terms of goals. It’s weird. I’m getting into good areas and it’s not like I feel I am going to score every time or miss every time. It’s something that is not really natural for me to be scoring from two or three yards. It’s not really in my DNA. I just tend to pick up the ball 20-25 yards out and look to get shots away. For me to try and get into the box and try to score headers, or tap-ins, that is something that I’ve now added to my game.”
Celtic need just seven more points to formally clinch their third successive league title and Commons believes they will retain a high level of focus and intensity in their performances for the rest of the season, even when the winning line has been crossed. “It’s easy for us to be motivated,” he said. “There is nothing more enjoyable than playing good football and scoring goals. Any footballer will tell you that they don’t want to just go out there and go through the motions.
“We want to play well. When you play your best football, that’s when you get the most enjoyment out of it, and when you are scoring three or four goals, the crowd are responding. So for the nine league games we have left, we will be looking to play in a similar manner.”