Now The Jokers In Our Media Want To Second Guess The Celtic Manager Over Forrest.

Image for Now The Jokers In Our Media Want To Second Guess The Celtic Manager Over Forrest.

From the moment a Celtic boss takes over, he is surrounded by “experts” who don’t hold any coaching badges, who never watched, far less, ran a training session, whose knowledge of tactics is limited to tinkering around on EA Sports FC, don’t understand dressing room dynamics and who do not know what the difference is between a system and a style.

And the thing of it is, all these people think they know management better than he does.

Some do care enough to try to learn the basics; I want to understand the sport I write about and so I’ve made an honest to God effort at it.

I have read tactics guides – most notably Inverting The Pyramid by Jonathon Wilson and The Mixer by Michael Cox– and I’ve even had a go at replicating the best systems from my favourite managers in a certain football management sim because it involves doing a deep dive into where every player plays, but most importantly why.

I don’t pretend to be an expert. I am just a guy who cares enough about the game to want to increase his knowledge base, and I have found that it helps me in understanding better what it is that we watch week after week, and why some things work and others don’t.

I read our mainstream media at times and I am aghast.

I’ll give you an example; I appeared on the Speirs podcast last year and the subject of Michael Beale came up, and I expressed my contempt for the media’s surprise at his early struggles this season. But it was obvious why he was struggling. Beale’s tactical philosophy is a joke. He had signed big physical footballers to fit a route one style of football which was so outdated, and obvious, even to me as a layperson that no serious football professional was going to be unable to counter it with the right players.

I found it appalling that so many football industry pundits either couldn’t, or wouldn’t, recognise how primative Beale’s ideas are.

Rodgers is an expert on tactics and I tried to understand what made that first spell of his so successful. One of the first innovations he brought to Celtic was that he introduced our team to the idea that a midfielder could drop to central defence and play as a libero, running with the ball at his feet. And why? Because one of our central midfielders was told to move in time with that run and pull other players with him to open up space.

Most Scottish sports writers understand the first part but not the second … but understanding the second, because it tells you the why, is the difference between knowing how the chess pieces move and actually being able to play chess.

What if I told you that part of the reason for our absurdly slow pace yesterday was the absence of one specific player? And that it was that slowing down of the game which allowed for us playing James Forrest in the first place? Would you think I was mad? Maybe I am, but let me tell you what I spent last night considering and see if it makes sense.

Rodgers does not highlight “pace and power” for nothing; this is critical to how he wants us to play. In that system, the wide players do a lot of the heavy lifting. When we have Maeda and Kuhn both in the side, we have energy and pace down either wing, and when we have that the whole team moves much more quickly. Let me explain why.

Say you have Callum McGregor in midfield looking for a runner to make a move past the full-backs.

Every yard of pace that guy has allows the captain to put that ball through to him more quickly.

But if your wingers don’t have pace – Palma on the left is the classic example – then you can’t make that pass as fast. Nor can Palma use speed to get away from his marker, so other players have to make forward runs to pull the defender away from him before you can play it out wide. And so, the midfield crawls forward simply because one component of it does not have the ability to beat his marker to the ball if the captain plays the ball into space.

It’s the loss of Maeda which slows the whole team down. Now, the manager has flirted with the idea of playing Yang, because he is athletic and has a bit of speed … but speed itself is not the only characteristic a wide player needs, and we can all see that he can be too easily pushed off the ball and that he lacks the ability to consistently beat people with it at his feet. He can’t cut inside and cause the defence problems either as other players can.

So Rodgers had a decision yesterday; should he persevere with his demand for pace even from players who couldn’t produce a final ball, or have a crack at goal, or did he recognise that we needed the technicians and the artisans on the pitch? He went with the latter, that’s why we won.

It wasn’t down to luck; I know a lot of the hacks are going to suggest that Rodgers selecting Forrest was a piece of good fortune … but Rodgers changed the whole system yesterday in order to put Forrest in the team, so it’s not some break of the game that got us the result, it was the manager knowing his business and making a concisous decision to tweak his own system in order to get Forrest in the side. Had Maeda been fit there would have been no choice to make; he’d have played, and we’d have had more dynamism. Rodgers could have tried to get that with Yang wide left … but he wanted Forrest for his effectiveness at scoring and setting up goals.

That was classic Rodgers. It won us the game, but it changed the way we went about trying to win.

Why is any of this important?

It’s important because much of the Scottish football media industry, most of them colossally ignorant about the sport they write about, are today using James Forrest’s performance yesterday as a stick to beat the manager with. They are questioning Rodgers judgement in not playing Forrest every week, and I think the answer to that is so obvious that all it does is show up how little they know about this sport.

Forrest slows the game down.

It’s just as simple as that. He is 32. He is our slowest wide player. He no longer has the speed he had even three or four years ago. This is the reality of players getting older, and everyone who watches the sport knows this but so few of them bother to think about what that means when you select one of these guys.

Look at someone like Luka Modric. He’s still playing football at the very highest level in the sport, and he’s doing it for one of the biggest teams in the world. But Modric was an attacking wide player during the first phase of his career.

Now he plays as a deep lying playmaker; why?

Because although he’s no longer quick, he’s still got the uncanny ability to spot a player making a run and then distribute a perfectly weighted pass 40 yards up the pitch to him and he does it better than just about any other player in football.

Forrest slows the game down.

You want to know why he’s not in Rodgers team every week? That’s why, right there. Who do you leave out to include him? The clown-car passengers at The Record think you leave out Nicolas Kuhn; okay … but right now that leaves you with Forrest and Palma on the wings unless you want to persist in playing Yang.

Rodgers playing style depends on pace.

You know how he got around that yesterday? He played Forrest not as a winger but as an inside forward, and he pushed Taylor further up the pitch so that we had an out ball wide on the left. Watch where Forrest was yesterday; he spent most of his game on the outside of the penalty box; handy, as it happens, as that’s where he scored his first goal from and where his quick thinking saw him rob the Dundee defender for the second.

Think, for a minute, what the genius are The Record are saying today; leave out Kuhn and put Forrest on the right.

With Forrest and Palma out wide you’ve got no pace whatsoever … and so the game is even slower, you’re asking your full-backs to venture further up the pitch … and you can be easily caught on the counter.

Which is why I’d warn everyone saying Forrest has to start against Hearts to consider what that means; a much slower build up, or taking wild risks with Taylor so far up the park that you’re asking Scales to drift left to cover for him … leaving gaps in the middle.

It’s exactly why the Ibrox club plays Tavernier deeper when Maeda plays. Football tactics are about finding a balance … or taking wild risks. A lot of managers, like Ange, are wild risk takers and that pays dividends. Brendan Rodgers is a pragmatist.

I would play Forrest against Hearts. I would sacrifice some of the pace in the build-up to have him out on the pitch because his game intelligence is second to none and he is one of the most accomplished finishers we have.

I have long believed that had he developed in any other country but this one, with its brain-numbing coaching focussed on a handful of attributes, that he’d have been played as a striker and would have well over 200 goals instead of half that.

But his early speed and his ability with the ball at his feet saw him branded a winger instead. His goals and assists justify it to a degree, and for a few years there he was an absolute terror in the Cristiano Ronaldo wide right role racking up the stats … but he has so, so, so many of the key qualities of a good forward.

So, I would play him against Hearts … but not against the Ibrox club, where we will hopefully have back Maeda who fits perfectly into the Rodgers style of play, and where he effectively neutralises Ibrox’s strongest player on the flanks, and the source of many of their assists and goals.

Just keep in mind that the simple act of accommodating Forrest leaves problems somewhere else on the pitch. The football pitch is like a gigantic three-dimensional puzzle; every time you move a piece from one position to another you leave a space which the opposition can exploit. Those who do not recognise what it is that good coaches actually do don’t need to boot up Football Manager; sit down at a chess board against a good player and think about it in those terms.

Every move has to be weighted. Every attack needs to be supported by other pieces. Just as with football, there are fast pieces which can get up and down the board swiftly, and the more ponderous pieces who are limited in where they can go.

One of my favourite chess pieces has always been the knight, with his pattern of movement which makes it unlike any other on the board. The knight is not quick, and has vulnerabilities because of that, and yet properly deployed he creates problems in the hands of a good player which no other piece can. Using the knight effectively depends on protecting him and supporting him with other pieces.

That’s James Forrest, and if he plays against Hearts don’t be surprised if the team shape seems a little unusual; you won’t be imagining it.

I trust Rodgers judgement either way, because he knows a hell of a lot more about football than I do and such an obscene amount more than those in the media who are second guessing him today that he might as well be operating on another plane of existence from them, because they do not have his qualifications, his experience or his on-the-job understanding of this stuff, and to be frank it is embarrassing when they try to act as if they do.

Share this article


  • J77 says:

    Interesting comments on winger/striker transitions, Henke springs to mind. On this, and the need for pace on the wings is there any value in reverting Kyogo back to this position or is his pace crucial up front? My concern is rushing Maeda back, not just rehab wise but the real fear/expectation he’ll get a red/two yellows this weekend.

  • John Copeland says:

    Those ‘tactical genius ‘ daily Record scoops pay more attention and give more credence to the invisible ‘Hotline ‘ callers than telling it’s army of readers the truth and facts of Scottish football’s deficiencies! The infamous ‘ostrich syndrome ‘ it’s glorified typists maintain on a game by game basis and selective criticism for some is abundant and succulent and an insult to anyone’s intelligence .If you read an unattributed story from the daily Record’s sports desk posse would you know who typed the thing from style of wording and substance ? I couldn’t ! Everyone types in the same fashion and style – boring sameness and unimaginative ! There is a shameful lack of originality from those male Record hacks in all aspects of ‘ sports ‘ coverage . Second hand click bait impresses no one . The proof is in the highly dwindling sales of issues on a daily basis …..glug ..glug …glug !

  • Roonsa says:

    Most enlightening. I had never considered any of that. You have piqued my interest in learning the basics of tactics in football. Thank you.

  • Tony B says:

    Papers like the Rectum employ morons because their invariable drivel is aimed at morons.

    None of these cretins would have the slightest inkling of what you are talking about.

    Long may it continue, I say.

  • John Smith says:

    Three times yesterday a Celtic player made a forward run and calmac passed the ball straight out the park for a goal kick,,not good enough,,

    • James Forrest says:

      He’s not having the best time at the moment, Calmac. But consider this too; teams now know we depend heavily on him to build play. So they press him all the time, which means he has to make decisions more quickly than he’d like. We need to protect him better; we really do need that ball winning hard-nut in midfield. It’s no coincidence that he played better with Iwata in the team earlier in the season. The O’Riley/Hatate axis is good for attacking. Not so much for the defensive side.

      • William Melvin says:

        Brendan could always go to playing a back 3 (which would please the Taylor haters in our support) which would in turn free up the space needed in midfield for the added “bite” we require to allow McGregor to function more efficiently without diminishing the threat that the 2 wingers pose along with Kyogo/Idah up top.
        However,as you have already stated,he’s a pragmatist so he isn’t likely to tinker with a defence that some weeks couldn’t keep weans out a close !
        It would also eliminate the threat to the opposition that Taylor poses going forward which some of the hard of thinking in our fanbase should pause to consider before piling onto him any time there is a calamity at the back.and they might also want to consider the vital contributions he has come up with in our times of need and cut the guy a bit of slack.
        Whichever way you cut it we aren’t going to see a radical change in systems or styles we play for the remainder of this season as l’m pretty sure we have enough to get us over the line as long as we can negate the only real threat to us,that being the agents of the SFA.
        Going forward next season ( if we are successful in retaining the league flag)l fear that unless Parasite Pete fucks off into retirement or he jumps into the heated casket he has ordered himself we are going to be in much the same boat as we find ourselves in at the moment, the only difference being with a squad another year older.

  • John Smith says:

    Agree James,,also thought the team played better when iwata replaced calmac,,,

  • Michael McCartney says:

    Very interesting article James, especially for an auld guy like me, I take it all the players have to play to the best of their ability for everything to fall into place. James Forrest certainly played his part yesterday.

  • Paul taggart says:

    James thats actually called simple football nowt hard about it and if brendan is so clever why did he come back to work way the same piece off shit he left because off ???

  • Tam Lyon says:

    A very well written piece. And I think u hit the nail on the head. Well said. HH

  • Shoogle McDoug says:

    This is an excert from Joe McHugh October 31, 2023.

    Rodgers on Forrest

    “Even at 32 he’s still our quickest winger. We did tests the other week and James is still my quickest winger. He’s up there with Daizen, believe it or not, in terms of sheer speed”

    Unless somethings happened since October Janes, he’s not slown down that much.

    • James Forrest says:

      Hahaha I would have serious doubts about that. Up there with Maeda? No, I think not lol

      • Woodyiom says:

        It depends on over what distance(s) the tests were. Over 10-15yards its probably true as Jamesy has still got great acceleration from a standing start. But over 30, 40, 50plus yards etc it clearly isn’t as Maeda is lightening quick over all lengths and amazingly can keep doing it pretty much non-stop for 90mins which is incredibly rare.

        • James Forrest says:

          Yep. Spot on mate.

          I remember Ange saying that the amazing thing about Maeda isn’t even his speed, it’s that he’s one of those players who can reach his maximum speed, stop and then get right beack there again very rapidly. That’s some major athleticism.

      • Woodyiom says:

        Meant to add also that at say 20yards max Jamesy will have reached his top speed – Daizen is like a 100m Olympic sprinter and doesn’t reach top speed until after 50 or 60 metres hence why its possible over the shorter test Jamsey and Daizen would have similar speeds but ultimately Daizen’s top speed is far far quicker than Jamesy’s – that’s obvious.

      • Shoogle McDoug says:

        On the eye, this would not seem to be the case but it supposedly is. Rodgers said (Glasgow Times): “I have James Forrest who is 32 but he’s our quickest winger still, we did tests last week and he’s still my quickest winger. He’s up there with Daizen Maeda, believe it or not, in terms of sheer speed.”

        There’s a “hahaha” AND a “lol” in your reply.
        I’d expect more than that to be honest. ?
        I was only quoting the manager hahaha lol.

  • Celticfcman says:

    Interesting. Forrest starts every match for me. He’s been wasted for 3 years.

Comments are closed.