Having been one of Celtic’s ‘Invincibles’ last year, James Forrest has become almost indispensable for Brendan Rodgers’ side this season.
But as the winger sets his sights on a new long-term contract which could make him a one-club man for the rest of his career, there is no chance of him being regarded as irreplaceable by the Scottish champions.
Forrest is enjoying the season of his life for Celtic where he has made more appearances than any other player and scored 16 goals so far – the first time he has hit double figures in a single campaign.
The 26-year-old’s form has seen him nominated for the PFA Scotland Player of the Year award, which will be handed out this Sunday.
Forrest has just over 12 months remaining on his current contract, having signed a three-year deal in the summer of 2016 following a period when he seemed likely to leave Celtic.
Having thrived under Rodgers’ management since then, he hopes to extend his stay further but knows he cannot allow to let his current standards drop.
“You need to keep at it because Celtic don’t stand still,” said Forrest. “They spend money on players and everyone is replaceable. But I want to be here as long as I possibly can.
“Football changes so quickly and you can see that in other people’s careers but I always wanted to stay at Celtic and I had that discussion when the new manager came in two years ago.
“I worked hard and had a good pre-season and once I got my new contract signed and out of the way it was a huge relief and I’ve kept working hard because I still want to stay here.
“Nowadays it’s less common for players to stay with the same club for their whole career but I’ve been here since I was a wee boy and I know how big a club Celtic is.
“You’re competing for league titles and cups and trying to get into the Champions League every single year and there’s nothing better for any player than to come up against the best out there. I don’t look too much into the statistics of how many minutes I’ve played this season or whatever, but if that’s what’s happening then it’s obviously good because my aim is to play as many games as I can for Celtic and make a contribution.
“You’re happy when you’re playing and there’s nothing better than playing for trophies because everyone wants to be successful.”
Forrest has racked up an impressive collection of winners’ medals since breaking into Celtic’s first team at the age of 18 and has been part of all six of their current run of consecutive title triumphs.
He aims to play his part in clinching seven-in-a-row on Sunday when Rangers are the visitors to Celtic Park. Forrest will also have his eye on finally breaking his scoring duck in Old Firm games, having failed to find the target in his previous 15 appearances in the fixture.
It’s a curiosity in his career statistics which still earns him some gentle ribbing from his younger brother Alan who has scored twice against Rangers for Ayr United. This weekend could see the Forrest siblings both celebrating if Ayr manage to win the League 1 title.
“Alan has done really well when he has played against Rangers,” he added. “He has mentioned his goals a few times before but it is just a bit of banter. We have one more game against Rangers this season but I just focus on the team and try to make sure we get the three points and win the game.
“Ayr have one game left and they can still get automatic promotion. It would be good if they can do it. If not they might have the play-offs but it would be great for Alan to get back into the Championship. My Dad has been saying that for the last few weeks, how unusual it would be for both of us to win titles, but Ayr have lost their last two games and it is out of their hands. But Alan has had a good season and I hope they get promoted.”
It could be a perfect Sunday for Forrest if an Old Firm victory is followed by him being named Player of the Year by his peers later in the evening.
“Just to be nominated shows that you are respected by other players in the league and shows that you have been consistent all season,” he said.
“The guys you are playing against have taken note of what you have been doing all season. It is good for me personally but it is down to the work you do with your team-mates. That is what gets you nominated.
“We have had a lot of big games this season and now we just want to try and get this league wrapped up as quickly as we can and then get a few games to get ready for the Scottish Cup final.
“We know that Sunday is going to be a hard game and we are going to need to be at it right from the start because every Old Firm game is hard.
“It could be some day. Being nominated is great but the main thing now is getting ready for Sunday and contributing to the team winning on Sunday.”