James Forrest has already played 174 matches for club and country in the last three seasons but he’s willing to curtail his summer break yet again next month in order to help Scotland make some progress in their Euro 2020 qualifying group.
With Cyprus due at Hampden on 8 June followed by a visit to Belgium three days later, the winger’s period of rest and recreation will be short but, unlike others we could name, he has no intention of ruling himself out of contention.
However, he urged SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell to precipitate the appointment of a successor to Alex McLeish, sacked four weeks ago after dreadful displays in Kazakhstan and San Marino, in order to provide the players with the best possible preparation for two difficult challenges.
“I think that it will be better for everyone – especially the players – once they get the new manager in. It will settle everyone down and then they can pick their squad for these qualifiers in June,” said Forrest, who was yesterday named the Scottish Football Writers’ Association International Player of the Year.
“Those are important games and we need to be ready for them. I just hope that things go well with Celtic and then I’ll be ready to report because I want to play for Scotland as often as possible. I want to be involved in June.”
Players come good at different ages and Forrest took longer than most to fulfil the potential which was always evident but, in spite of having had two extremely productive campaigns, he argues that the best is still to come from him.
“Last year had been my best season to date from a personal point of view but I think this one has gone even better for me because I’ve really kicked on in the international games as well,” he said.
“It’s been an exciting time and, even though this campaign isn’t finished yet, I’m already looking forward to the next one.
“The last couple of seasons have been really enjoyable and I believe that you do play your best football when you’re enjoying it. It’s been unbelievable and you don’t really want it to stop; you want to keep going.
“Being more experienced definitely helps. When you come up against better players in the bigger occasions then it changes your approach to the game and you take something from that.
“It also helps when you look back at what you’ve won. Everyone knows, at the start of each new season, that it’s going to be difficult to keep it going but we keep working hard to give ourselves a chance.”
Forrest demurred when asked to select a personal highlight from the season drawing to a close. “Maybe it’s still to come,” he suggested.
Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, Forrest prefers to fly under the radar, clearly not requiring thousands of followers to bolster his ego.
“I don’t hide but that’s not my thing, which isn’t to say that other lads are wrong to do it,” he said. “Everyone has different personalities but I prefer to stay grounded. Sometimes, if you go over the top, then within days it can come back at you. I deal with the highs and lows in exactly the same way.
“When you first break through, the first-team players and staff would be a bit harsher on young boys to keep you in line and I think I’ve taken that through the years with me; it’s still in my head.
“If you stepped out of line when I was younger there were older players who’d make sure that that never happened again.
“Obviously, Broony [Scott Brown] was like that then and he’s still on top of the young boys now, which is a good thing because you don’t want kids thinking that they’ve made it just because they’ve played in the first team.
“There were a lot of big characters around when I first joined the squad, including the current manager. He’s one of those who doesn’t like it when anyone gets ahead of themselves.”
Celtic have produced some flat performances in recent months but Forrest refused to attribute that dip in performance levels to fatigue due to the demands fighting on four fronts places on the club’s regular starters.
“When you play as many high-intensity matches as we do it’s inevitable that, at different times, certain players will have a reaction to it but fitness levels throughout the squad are really good so we can manage to combine the international scene with our club commitments,” he insisted.
“Obviously, having a big squad also helps because the manager can see when that’s happening and freshen things up a bit in different games. It’s been a long season but we’ve already won the title and the Betfred Cup and me winning a few individual awards just caps that off. Now we’re all looking forward to the Scottish Cup final against Hearts and hoping to finally get that job done as well.”