FORMER Celtic winger Bobby Petta has expressed concern over the injury problems which he fears could prevent James Forrest fulfilling his potential to become one of the club’s greatest-ever wide players.
Forrest has started just 17 of Celtic’s 58 matches this season, although the highly-rated 21-year-old is expected to recover from a hamstring problem in time to face Hibs at Hampden in Sunday’s William Hill Scottish Cup Final.
Petta’s own career at Celtic was blighted by enforced spells on the sidelines, one of which forced him to miss their previous Scottish Cup final meeting with Hibs in 2001.
“James has struggled a lot with injuries and I know what that is like,” said the Dutchman. “It stops your momentum and that is especially difficult for a winger. In that position, you depend on the service you get, so it is harder to be consistent than when you are in the middle of the pitch. The injuries will be frustrating for James but hopefully he can keep himself fit in the future and get a more consistent run of games. It’s not good for Celtic that he has been missing, but of course it’s also not good for him.
“He wants to show the talent that made him Young Player of the Year in Scotland last season. Everyone knows he can play, but not having a consistent run stops you getting rhythm. You can’t expect him to play well week-in, week-out if that’s the case. There is no doubting his talent. For me he is a very good player. He still has a lot to learn, but he has all the attributes to have a fantastic career at Celtic. He just needs to be able to play every week.”
Petta was a spectator when Celtic defeated Hibs 3-0 at Hampden in 2001 to complete the domestic grand slam. “I got injured in the League Cup final win over Kilmarnock in the March of that season,” he recalled. “I had problems with groin and muscle injuries that season. So I didn’t play in the Scottish Cup final.
“Like this year, Celtic went into it as favourites and with a lot of confidence. But Hibs are a decent team with some strength up front and I think Celtic have to be ready for both the 90 minutes and maybe extra time. I hope it works out for Celtic, because they are the champions and have a much better team than Hibs.
“But nothing would surprise me. You saw it with Wigan beating Manchester City in the FA Cup final. Anything can happen on the day. Celtic have recent experience of losing at Hampden, against St Mirren in the League Cup semi-final, and they need to turn that into a positive to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I think the Scottish Cup semi-final win over Dundee United shows they have learned their lesson.”
Petta, now a personal fitness instructor in Glasgow, does not believe the holidays given to the Celtic players after they had clinched the SPL title four weeks ago will have any adverse effect.
“I don’t see any problem with it,” he added. “The players who had a holiday have been important players and are experienced enough to not go stupid. They went away with the family and got away from the pressure. They recharged the batteries and got their minds fresh. They are professionals. If you have been playing all season, then a week off makes no difference to the fitness.”