TREBLES have certainly been hard to come by. For James Forrest more than most. The fragile winger has rarely strung together three consecutive full 90 minutes for Celtic in recent years. His manager Ronny Deila looked for the nearest bit of wood and slapped it hard yesterday when he dared to suggest that matters might, just might, be changing for the better for the injury-bedevilled 23-year-old.
That those who know their football have real belief in the talents of Forrest was best illustrated by Gordon Strachan’s decision to select the attacker in his latest Scotland squad. In the past month the forward has only completed one full game in making three starts and three substitute appearances – his most recent outing a goalscoring cameo that ensured Celtic vanquished Dundee United in Sunday’s League Cup final. The problem is that Forrest has been unable to develop any real belief that his body will stand up to the rigours of racing full-pelt down the flanks of a football field.
I hope in half a year we can sit and be really excited about James ForrestRonny Deila
It is likely that Forrest will have a part to play in tonight’s Scottish Cup quarter-final replay at Celtic Park against United. Deila yesterday almost made it seem like a cause to bring out the bunting that the player is in “a very good place” through having “played 30 minutes in the final, 90 minutes last Sunday, trained fully yesterday and trained today” to be available for the last-eight tie. However, that is because Forrest has been in a very scary place.
“He [may be playing a little within himself but] has been much worse than he is now,” Deila said. “He has been very afraid. When you have been out two of the last four years with a lot of pulled muscles, you get frightened. We need to get his confidence and belief in himself back again. He’s working really hard with a very good attitude.
“Things are going in the right direction. So far we have managed to get him out of pulled muscles for six months but he has had other things. When he gets a small injury like a knock on his knee, a twisted ankle or something, we have to stop because it affects his way of running. We have to be very careful with him until the buffer is higher and we can demand things.
“It’s been a long time since James Forrest has been consistently good. We have been unbelievably patient with him because we have had to build him up from the bottom. It’s been hard work building his self-belief back up in him that he won’t get these injuries. It’s been slow but I was happy for him to score on Sunday and win a penalty. But he is not even close to what he can be as a footballer. He has the right people around him and we know if we get it right he will be a very important player for us.”
Deila doesn’t suggest that Forrest has been struggling to achieve a psychological balance so much as a physical one. He has been inhibited on the park for good reason – his body has ended up afflicted by all manner of ailments and strains.
“He has to have a balanced and controlled body,” said Deila. “That’s about core. It’s about how to control high speed, changes of direction. The medical staff have been working really hard getting this right. He’s working good and getting in the right direction but now he needs to play more football, be more on the pitch. But his physique is not even close to what it should be.
“If he plays 90 minutes, it takes five days to recover because he hasn’t played for such a long time. If I push him again, he gets another pulled muscle because he’s tired. You have to measure him all the time. He has to be honest with his body. We have to build him step by step and that’s what we have been doing. He’s in a very good place now and we are working in the right direction. I hope in half a year we can sit and be really, really excited about James Forrest.”
Scotland’s national manager remains excited about “eliminator” Forrest, even when the winger is delicately edging his way towards full fitness. Deila understands why Strachan has called-up Forrest for a double-header that will see Northern Ireland visit Hampden in a friendly next Wednesday. That fixture will be used by Strachan to prepare his team for the World Cup qualifier against a Gibraltar side that will have no ambition beyond sitting in at Hampden on 29 March.
“I am not surprised about Scotland because they are thinking the same as us,” Deila said. “He [Strachan] will be thinking that against Gibraltar he’ll need players who can go past defenders.” Club and country need a Forrest who can go past defenders week in, week out without worrying if he will be undone by the exertion.
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