There are two reasons why I was happy to see Maryan Shved finally arrive at Celtic Park
. The first was his form both before and after the deal was done. He proved himself a fine footballer with the right pedigree. I believed he’d be an unqualified success. Indeed, I thought he’d be a standout in the SPL and a big player for us in Europe.
It all looked that way. But something has gone wrong.
Shved’s failure would have been bad enough if he’d simply not managed to challenge for a place in the starting eleven. This guy doesn’t even make the squad anymore. It’s as if he’s chucked it and everyone knows he’s chucked it. I still hope we’ll see him.
That hope is getting very hard to sustain. On top of it is an even greater concern though.
Shved was brought in to challenge for a position wide right.
The position James Forrest plays in. Between the Ukrainian’s disappearing act and the injury to Mo Elyounoussi, which has meant drafting Forrest in wide left, we have a perfect storm situation where Forrest isn’t being challenged at all. He simply walks into the team every single week.
And that’s not good for him and it’s not good for Celtic either.
This guy needs a challenge for his place in the team.
He needs competition. When he doesn’t have it he stagnates. He drifts. He becomes lax, even lazy. When he knows he can walk into the starting eleven every week James Forrest becomes complacent, and that’s a great pity because when he’s on fire – as he was at the start of this campaign – he’s unplayable.
When it comes to this player, I’ve gone through every emotion it’s possible to have.
I’ve lamented his place in the team under Deila to the extent I said he was useless and openly hoped that the club moved him on. I raved about him under Rodgers where he blossomed into a first pick, even keeping Patrick Roberts on the side-lines. At that point, he looked set.
Even under Lennon he continued turning in exceptional – and important – displays. But the slide has begun, and it may just be that it’ll be arrested by giving this guy a few weeks in the sun to relax and to regain his bearings.
But I think he needs competition to be at his best, and if Shved isn’t up to providing that then we need to bring someone in who can.
It dismayed to read about how McGregor and Forrest are amongst the two players in world football who have played the most games in the last twelve months. McGregor, in fact, is number one and no player needs an extended break more. Forrest has to be up there, and this doesn’t make me proud as much as frustrated that we’re still over-reliant on these two.
McGregor could be benched easily with the midfield resources we have; I can’t understand why Lennon doesn’t prioritise the games this kid plays in more. For Forrest it comes down to there being nobody who’s as good as him wide right or, shockingly, wide left where he’s had to deputise with the continuing injury problems facing Elyounoussi.
Lennon persists in trying to make Lewis Morgan a better player; what that kid would benefit from most is a loan move away from Celtic Park as we get our act together and try to bring in some quality backup. He won’t cut it at the moment and Lennon’s determination to squeeze his square peg into a round hole wasn’t convincing at Hampden or anywhere else.
Away from Parkhead he can grow as a footballer as Ryan Christie did, as Ajer did, and return to the club a far better player and ready for the team. The spotlight is what’s killing this guy, that and the knowledge that right now he’s not making it.
Not everyone has the luxury Forrest has, of being a guaranteed starter. And he’s no longer coping well with it, but going backwards. His two performances against Sevco in December were lamentable. He bore no resemblance to the player we know he can be.
Lennon’s over-reliance on certain footballers is understandable, but dangerous. It is driving them rapidly to the brink of exhaustion. Not fatigue, not tiredness, but to the point where they look wasted and can no longer produce. Forrest may just be dead on his feet, but all the things that haunted his game before Rodgers arrived returned, in force, against the Ibrox club.
More than anything, he just needs to be reminded that a place in this Celtic team is a privilege and not a right. That it has to be fought for. That you have to be on top form to keep it. Right now nobody is providing that challenge, no-one is coming up on his shoulder, and even the best of players will lose their edge if there is no competition to make them better.
That was supposed to be Maryan Shved. He won’t achieve the success we’d hoped for this season, unless there’s a dramatic turnaround from him in Dubai, enough that the manager trusts him with a first team spot. It seems unlikely.
So it is incumbent on Lennon and the board to find competition for Forrest elsewhere. A good right sided player is necessary anyway if we don’t want him to have a near-complete collapse in the second half of the campaign.
On top of this, there might be Euros in the summer if Scotland doesn’t blow it and there’s no chance Forrest and McGregor will even get to recuperate over the course of the close season as we’d like. This makes it more necessary than ever that we bring in cover for both, and players who can make an impact in the squad.
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