What next for Celtic - and Fraser Forster?

Roddy Forsyth
The Telegraph
Southampton are likely to want £20 million or more for Fraser Forster - PA
Southampton are likely to want £20 million or more for Fraser Forster - PA

First, there were the Invincibles, the players who set a UK record for successive unbeaten domestic fixtures. Then, there was the Treble Treble, three consecutive clean sweeps of the Scottish honours. And on Sunday at Hampden Park, Celtic achieved a 10th trophy on the spin when they played woefully against Rangers yet still lifted the Betfred Scottish League Cup.

What is the next frontier for Celtic? An impressive group-stage campaign in the Europa League guaranteed a place in the last 32 where, with seeded status and a kindly draw, Neil Lennon & Co can contemplate the possibility of ­another round of European football in March. 

Scroll to continue with content
Ad

In the meantime, Thursday’s trip to Romania to face CFR Cluj in their final Group E fixture is an exercise in rest and recreation, the former applying to players who have aches and strains after the Old Firm final and the latter offering an opportunity to the likes of Craig Gordon and Leigh Griffiths, who have been confined to the margins of the ­Parkhead squad.

Gordon began the campaign as No 2 to Scott Bain and might have expected to profit when his colleague suffered a dislocated finger in August. Instead, Lennon moved for Fraser Forster, who had been a spectator at Southampton for almost 18 months, bringing the former England goalkeeper back on loan for a second spell.

That decision has been vindicated by a string of impressive ­performances which have featured several outstanding saves, most notably at home to Lazio and on Sunday, when Forster’s heroics – which included a penalty save from ­Alfredo Morelos and a spectacular clawing block to deny Ryan Jack – kept Rangers at bay and earned the 31-year-old the accolade of man of the match.

The paradox of that performance was that it makes the notion of a longer-term deal for the player both more alluring and less likely.

Southampton are likely to want £20 million or more for Forster, ­especially if he continues to display regenerated form and, even if Celtic were disposed to meet the fee, his wages – understood to be around £900,000 a year – would add to an unlikely outlay.

Lennon, although he did not rule any possibility out, did refer to the likely obstacle when asked if he could see the Parkhead board c­onsenting to such spending. 

“Again, it’s affordability,” Lennon said. “I’ll talk to the player, but first we have to make the call to Southampton. Is it beyond us? I don’t know.

“Would I love to do it? Of course, but we have to be realistic at times and we can’t go overboard either. We have to be prudent, but we have him right now and it’s fantastic ­because he’s definitely made us ­better.

“His movement, his footwork was fantastic. He just wasn’t getting beaten. He makes blocks, he just closes down the angles. He doesn’t give himself up too early. He doesn’t second guess the striker – he reads it brilliantly.

“Because of his frame, his wingspan, he can get to balls other goalkeepers can’t get to and it gives the back four a huge shot in the arm to have someone like that in goal.”

Lennon revealed that he had scarcely glimpsed Forster’s save from the Morelos penalty because he had been comforting Jeremie Frimpong, who had just been sent off for fouling Rangers’ Colombian striker inside the box.

“I was consoling Frimpong and he was hugging me,” Lennon said. “ I wasn’t surprised because I’ve seen Fraser do it so many times. When you see him spread himself on the line, all of a sudden the area becomes a lot smaller and you have to hit the ball really well to beat him.

“He’s better now than he was here before and I certainly think Gareth Southgate [the England manager] should have a look at him. He’s been unbelievable. He’s more mature.”

At the other end of the team, Griffiths is likely to start in Romania. The striker, who spent most of last season undergoing therapy for ­personal issues, has been displaced by Odsonne Edouard and has yet to regain his former level of fitness. Lennon, though, discounted the notion of a loan move in January.

“I doubt it. I’m not really thinking about that one,” he said. “I need him around the place and I want him fitter and in condition. He knows his targets and he’s getting there slowly but surely.

“He might start on Thursday and we’ll see what we can get out of him. He’s definitely in contention.

“We may look at letting a couple of players go on loan. We are thinking of that at the minute, allied to the volume of games.” 

What to Read Next