Influx of youth makes James Forrest the Peter Pan of Celtic

Fresh-faced Celtic winger James Forrest is still regarded as a promising youngster by some but appearances can be deceptive. The 26-year-old made his debut eight seasons ago, has won 11 major honours and 17 Scotland caps, a haul which gives the lie to his youthful appearance.

Despite appearance, Celtics James Forrest is the second longest serving player at the club. Picture: SNS.

In any case, the current influx of emerging talent in the champions’ squad has underlined the fact that, in footballing terms, he is starting to get on a bit.

Forrest has not yet become fully accustomed to being regarded as one of the senior professionals at Parkhead but he welcomes the freshness they have brought to the group and he expects a few of them to feature against Partick Thistle at Firhill tonight.

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“It’s just really good; the other night [in the 5-0 Betfred Cup victory over Kilmarnock] there were six players of 20 years old and under,” he said.

“That’s a credit to the manager and a credit to the young boys themselves. I was delighted for them and it’s great to see them doing well. I’m one of the more experienced ones now.

“After Broony [Scott Brown] I think I’m the second-longest serving player at the club. I still feel young but there are guys out there at 18 and 19 so, aye, it does make me feel a bit old.

“It’s different from when I came through, though. From the youth team to the first-team players, everyone is closer. It’s easier for the young ones to come through, which is good. It helps them calm down and settle in when they step up.

“The way we play is not rigid, if you like. We have players who can play in many different positions and we can change it from within, so it is definitely a plus for us and the manager.”

First-team coach John Kennnedy knows all about working his way up through the ranks at Lennoxtown. He did it as a player before a horrendous knee injury (sustained while making his debut for Scotland) brought the stylish defender’s playing career to a shuddering halt.

Still only 33, he took his coaching badges and was initially brought on to the backroom staff as a scout and then as coach to the Under-19s. As a result of the way his own potential remained unfulfilled, Kennedy, pictured, urges the younger members of the squad to embrace the experience of starring for the first team.

“I do that but without referring back to myself,” he said. “My time has been and gone. The gaffer is great at telling them not to let a day pass by because it might be an opportunity missed but, in terms of the first team, the level they train at is first-class

“The academy players are taking the lead from the first-team guys. They see Scott Brown, Scott Sinclair and Stuart Armstrong so that, when they step up to training, they know the tempo is really high.

“Now, when they step in, they know the level they need to be at and they can’t switch off. The manager is great for that, making sure that if someone does take a day off or decides to take it easy for a day, he quickly reminds them that’s not what they are here to do. They are quickly left out of the team if that happens.”

He admits that, when he was in the eye of the hurricane as a 20-year-old, that he did not savour the experience (which included an Old Firm victory at Ibrox and shutting out Ronaldinho as Barcelona were knocked out of the Uefa Cup by Martin O’Neill’s side) as much as he might have done.

“It all happens ever so quickly and, before you know it, you are in amongst it and just getting on with it,” he said. “As you grow older, you look back and realise the moments you were in, the opportunities you had at that time and how much it meant to you.

“At the time, it was just your job but, looking back, they are certainly memories you savour more than at the time when you are living it.”

Celtic confirmed that former midfielder Shaun Maloney, who rejected the opportunity to join Aberdeen as a player, will assist Tommy McIntyre as a coach with the Under-20 squad. “He will be terrific for us,” said Kennedy.“I’ve known him a long time and I know what kind of person he is so he will bring a lot to the academy.

“Shaun is a thinker. He is an intelligent boy and Derek McInnes is on record as saying Shaun was honest enough to admit that he might not be able to put in the performances that Aberdeen would expect.

“We all know what he brings and it’s a big plus for everybody. It’s good to have someone fresh with that attacking mindset.

“Like me, Shaun knows the pathway here. At other clubs young players might get in quicker but here you have to patient while needing to be ready to go at any time.”