Scottish football has very little to shout about at the moment. Poor performances from the national team, a mediocre Premier League, a shambolic governing body and one of world football’s most famous clubs languishing in the Irn-Bru Third Division wilderness all paint a bleak picture of the so-called beautiful game.
However, promising performances from the under-21’s national team in their ultimately unsuccessful qualification campaign for Euro 2013 provide a glimmer of hope. Players such as Johnny Russell, Tony Watt, Danny Wilson, and two recent graduates to full international honours, Jordan Rhodes and James Forrest, point to a brighter future for Scottish football.
Described by the SFA’s Performance Director, Mark Wotte, as “the light in the darkness” of Scottish football, Celtic winger James Forrest is already beginning to make his mark for both his club and the national team.
Scouted by Celtic at the age of 11 while playing in his home town of Prestwick in Ayrshire, Forrest signed youth terms with the club two years later, having turned down offers from Kilmarnock and Rangers.
By the time he was 17, Forrest had developed into one of Celtic’s finest prospects, becoming a regular scorer from his position on the right wing. Forrest started the 2008/2009 season for Celtic U19’s with three goals in his first five games, but an injury sustained in October 2008 sidelined him until the next March.
Without Forrest, the young Celts suffered a poor run of form, but on his return to the side as the season drew to a close, Forrest proved injury had not stunted his development. He soon progressed to the reserve team, scoring twice in his first two games, and was rewarded for his excellent form with a new four year professional contract, which he signed on 30 August 2009.
Having scored on his debuts for Celtic under-19’s and the reserves, Forrest repeated the trick in May 2010, when he was introduced as a substitute at Celtic Park during a Scottish Premier League game against Motherwell. He scored the third in a 4-0 Celtic win, which prompted manager Neil Lennon to insist he would not rush his new star’s development, despite his fine start for the Hoops.
An injury to Paddy McCourt at the start of the 2010/2011 season presented Forrest with the ideal opportunity to stake his claim for a regular place in the Celtic side, which he grasped with both hands, scoring against St Mirren, earning his first call up to Scotland under-21’s at the age of 19, and winning the Young Player of the Month award in a promising August.
In January 2011, Forrest was rewarded for his excellent start to life in the first team with a new five year contract.
While the 2010/2011 season ended in disappointment for Celtic as Rangers claimed the league title, Forrest had been a revelation.
In Celtic’s title winning 2011/2012 season Forrest again blossomed, with match winning performances, including against Hibs at Easter Road, where he scored twice after half time to turn round a 1-0 deficit.
Shortly after this display, it emerged that then Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp was monitoring the progress of Forrest, and he was named in FIFA’s list of 13 young players to watch in January 2012, alongside talent such as Barcelona’s Thiago Alcantara.
Forrest’s rapid rise has been rewarded on the international stage, with caps at Scotland age groups from under-17 to under-21, culminating with his full international debut against Republic of Ireland in May 2011. He has since collected seven caps, including his first competitive Scotland start against Macedonia in a World Cup qualifier in September.
This season will see Forrest’s debut in the group stages in the Champions League, where Celtic will face Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow, and though the Hoops are expected to dominate the SPL, every game played increases Forrest’s experience.
Though he is far from the finished article at 21 years old, Forrest possesses a commodity which has proved all too rare in Scottish football in recent times: flair. Able to play on either wing or as central striker, Forrest has been compared to Celtic legend Jimmy Johnstone, and described as a direct, old-fashioned winger, and has been praised for his positive attitude and willingness to learn from more senior Celtic players.
James Forrest is exactly the kind of player Scottish football needs in a time where confidence in the national team is dwindling. He excites the crowd, often produces the end product to good wing play, and can score goals.
If Forrest represents the future of our game then it will most certainly be bright.
Written by Andrew Watson
Follow him on Twitter @_AndrewWatson
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