James Forrest ‘would flourish in English Premier League but is happier at Celtic’

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers chats with James Forrest during training. Picture: SNS
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers chats with James Forrest during training. Picture: SNS
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Brendan Rodgers insists James Forrest would flourish in the Premier League but doesn’t believe there is any prospect of the Celtic winger developing itchy feet.

Former Parkhead playmaker Kris Commons claimed this week that Scotland’s Nations League hero Forrest is too inconsistent to be a success in the top flight of English 
football.

That notion was dismissed out of hand by Celtic manager Rodgers who expects the 27-year-old winger’s scintillating current form to attract attention from clubs south of the border.

Forrest recently signed a new contract with the Scottish champions, which runs until 2022, and Rodgers expects him to continue adding to an already impressive collection of winners’ medals with the club.

“There will be interest in James,” said Rodgers. “But it’s not as if he’s just popped up out of nowhere. James has been on the scene for a while now, played a lot of games and had big experiences.

“I’ve got no doubt, having worked in the Premier League, that he can play at that level. Absolutely 100 per cent, there would be no problems there.

“Some teams in the Premier League are playing just one game a week where you can recover and rest. So James would thrive, no question.

“But I’ve never, ever seen one glimmer of him wanting to be outside of Celtic. He’s just signed a new deal too.

“At the time when I first came to Celtic, there had been talk of him thinking about leaving. We had the chat there was a couple of things going on around him – but all he wanted was a bit of reassurance and a sense of feeling valued.

“There’s never been a notion that he’s anywhere happier than here. He’s obviously had a great couple of years and signed another deal. I think he’s one who strategically values the worth of himself as a player and now people are really seeing that, not just with Celtic.

“Because of James’ personality and how he is, he just drifts along really. But he’s one of these players who at the end of his career, people will look and say ‘bloody hell, look what he’s won and look how many games he’s played.’

“He could end up one of the most decorated Celtic players of all time. He’s already in the top ten in terms of trophies and he’s got more to win. He’s enjoying this moment and he’s so deserving of it because he’s a very underrated player for me.”

Forrest is no longer underrated by the Scotland supporters who relished his stunning contribution to the Nations League Group C1 triumph which guaranteed a Euro 2020 play-off place, following up his first two goals for his country in Saturday’s 4-0 win in Albania with the hat-trick in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Israel at Hampden.

“I was at the game on Tuesday and there was a really nice moment when all of the supporters cheered for James,” added Rodgers. “At first I heard it a little bit and I thought ‘there’s a pocket of Celtic supporters somewhere here.’ But then everyone started to sing and that was a really nice moment for him.

“You only need to look at the quality of his goals. International football is all about having that technique, that tactical idea plus speed and power – and he’s got all of that.

“He’s developed his game and he’s now coming into areas where he can score goals.

“Seeing him play when he was younger, he was an out-and-out winger who’d go down the line and cross it. But now he’s inside more often, making runs off the ball and being dynamic. You’d do well to see three better finishes than the ones against Israel.

“His goals were out of the top drawer; they looked simple but the quality of his touch and the technical ability of his finishing was great. He also scored two excellent goals in Albania with his left foot.

“Listen, you’ve had some wonderful players up here in the past but now that he has his first international goals – and I was surprised that he hadn’t scored for Scotland before – he can really kick on.”