Would Having Forrest Available Really Have Changed Celtic’s Season?

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There seems to be some excitement at Celtic Park with the news that James Forrest is almost back to full fitness.

It is a travesty that we didn’t have a backup for him.

His absence is one of the straws the manager clings to in an effort to make us all believe that these “mitigating circumstances” are the reason we haven’t had a better campaign.

There is no doubt that we have missed James Forrest.

He’s a fantastic player, to be sure, but a lot of our supporters aren’t convinced that his return is necessarily going to make a big difference to how we play or to turning around our fortunes.

They weren’t convinced by Forrest before he got injured, in spite of this website and others publishing reams of information about how much he brings to the team.

He has had his critics almost since the first hour he pulled on a Celtic shirt and played for our senior side.

I think my namesake has definitely been missed.

A lot of people do, including the manager.

But this raises an interesting question, about a phenomenon that has bothered football fans for ages; why do certain players look better the longer they are out of the team?

Is this a real phenomenon or is something people just say without thinking about it?

Take Shane Duffy for example; if he dropped out of the Celtic side tomorrow, would we really have a constituency who, within weeks, were hollering for his recall, thinking they’d seen something in him which isn’t actually there?

There’s absolutely no doubt that absence makes the heart grow fonder when it comes to a lot of our footballers … the historic example of Bobo Balde is a case in point. James Forrest might well prove to be another; even some of those critics of his now wonder if we do miss him after all.

The phenomenon doesn’t just apply to players languishing in the reserves. It seems especially acute when it comes to players who have left the club. We seem to focus on former footballers and their fortunes to an unhealthy degree.

That will be problematic when Frimpong and Ntcham start turning it on for their new clubs and the media reminds us what talents they are. Tierney is still getting headlines on Celtic sites, although he is definitely as good as we thought he was.

Jozo Simunovic was the best example, both whilst he was at Parkhead and after he left.

He was a player who was prone to dreadful errors, and in high profile matches.

Fans were able to put these things out of their minds when it came to demanding his recall, and there has been a lot of revisionism about how we should never have let him leave.

Am I guilty of it myself? I know that I have been.

When I wrote the Ajeti piece earlier in the week I wondered if I might be indulging in it because he’s returned and had one good game. Then you look at his performance and think “Yes, he’s got something.”

You take a player like Leigh Griffiths; I think he’s clearly proved that he’s an immense talent whenever he’s been given the chance. There is no revisionism there; if he’s in the team he will score goals, it’s really as simple as that.

But look at someone like Patryk Klimala. He has been the subject of a lot of internet chatter about not getting a chance; the question is, has he taken advantage of the chances he has had?

Has someone like Ewan Henderson?

Was Welsh really that impressive in his games that the clamour for him to get back into the team was fully justified?

Some think Ralston is another who deserved more opportunities but does this conveniently ignore those he did get?

Scott Brown came back and scored the other day.

Does that mean he should start every week?

The manager clearly missed his influence … Soro found himself out as a result, although the manager offered another explanation, which I’ll take a look at later.

It was the memory of past glories – and the forgetting of past mistakes – which led a lot of Celtic fans to welcome the return of Scott Bain. The manager now regards him as our number one, a decision which will almost certainly haunt us at some point as there were perfectly good reasons why Bain dropped out of the team in the first place.

Where does James Forrest rate alongside those players?

As someone who has been genuinely missed, or someone we think has? I think he’s certainly been a loss to the team, but I wonder if we’d ever have gone to two up front, far less the 4-4-2 diamond, if he was fit for duty.

On the other hand, his absence meant that we could never really put together the 3-5-2 system which was so effective for us this time last year, before the global health emergency hit football like a hammer and brought the season to a premature close.

Forrest has been a loss, but he never was a miracle worker.

We weren’t a one-man team when he was fit and scoring goals. His absence has hurt us but not that badly that we’d be in an entirely different position had his injury never happened.

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