‘Scott Brown is a loss for Scotland but Celtic will benefit’

James Forrest and Scott Brown helped Celtic move 12 points clear of Aberdeen on Sunday. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
James Forrest and Scott Brown helped Celtic move 12 points clear of Aberdeen on Sunday. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
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Player of the Year contender James Forrest remains very much part of Scotland’s future as he enters the peak years of his career in the form of his life for Celtic.

The 26-year-old winger is likely to be a key figure in Alex McLeish’s quest to lead the national team out of the wilderness and into the finals of Euro 2020.

Forrest laments the fact he will no longer have his club captain Scott Brown by his side when he wears the dark blue jersey following the midfielder’s announcement this week that he is retiring from international football for a second and, almost certainly, final time.

But there is solace for Forrest in his belief Celtic’s dominance of the domestic scene in Scotland will only be further strengthened and extended by Brown’s decision to focus solely on his club commitments from now on.

“The Celtic boys will all say that it’s a positive for us,” observed Forrest. “Scott has been tremendous this season and if he gets a bit of rest during the international break, it’s only going to make him hungrier for the Celtic games and we will benefit from that.

“He’s been phenomenal for the past couple of years now and I think that’s why he decided to reverse his decision not to play for Scotland the first time, because of how good he was feeling.

“You see in Celtic games that he runs the most of anyone in our team, he plays almost every game and he’s so fit. He’s almost 33 now, though, so not being involved in internationals is only going to prolong his Celtic career.

“You see him in the Champions League games for us and he’s still looking like our best player every game we play in Europe and in the other big games. It can only help him continue that.

“So I can understand his decision but obviously everyone in the Scotland camp will be gutted, because we know what he can still do. It will be a big loss on and off the park for the national team.

“He got all of the boys together, the boys playing down in England or the ones in the squad for the first time, he talks to everyone and he’s great for everyone. When you’re spending ten days at a time in a hotel during the international breaks, it can be a long time but Scott kept everybody’s spirits up and he will be missed.

“Once he was gone the first time, maybe that’s when some people fully realised what he does do both on and off the pitch. He’s a huge influence for everyone. He’s a leader, he’s been tremendous, and I think that everyone will be gutted that he has retired.

“It’s his own decision though, and I’m sure it will be the right one for him. In 2016, when he retired and came back, maybe he thought this was the time for him now. A lot of folk will think that he could still play on, but he knows his body himself and it’s his decision.”

Like his manager Brendan Rodgers, Forrest is backing the candidacy of his 20-year-old Celtic team-mate Kieran Tierney as the next Scotland captain.

“I think that would be a great shout,” added Forrest. “KT did really well when he was captain for the last friendly against Holland. But there will be other players who could step up and be Scotland captain.

“To be fair, Darren Fletcher is still around and there are some other experienced players in the squad. They are different types from Broony, not everyone is the same, but we’ve got a few lads who could do the job.”

Forrest’s mind will be on club duty tonight as Celtic look to reinforce their commanding position at the top of the Premiership when Dundee are the visitors to Parkhead. Rodgers described Celtic’s 2-0 win at Aberdeen on Sunday as a “signpost” moment on what they hope is their route to a seventh consecutive title win, while a visit to their other nearest rivals Rangers looms large in 11 days time.

“Sunday was really good in putting us 12 points clear of Aberdeen,” said Forrest. “Rangers is always a massive game for us but we have to focus on Dundee first, then the Scottish Cup quarter-final against Morton on Saturday, before we start thinking about Ibrox.”