James Forrest (born 7 July 1991) is a Scottish footballer who plays as a winger for Scottish Premiership club Celtic and the Scotland national team.
He joined Celtic's youth academy in 2003 and progressed through the ranks before making his debut in the 2009–10 season. He has progressed to become a key player in Celtic's team and was widely regarded as one of the brightest young talents in the Scottish game. In November 2011, the Scottish Football Association's performance director, Mark Wotte, described him as being "the light in the darkness" of Scottish football.
Forrest had played at every youth level for Scotland before making his first team debut on 29 May 2011 in a match against the Republic of Ireland. He won 13 caps for the under-19s, having scored two goals. He also won four caps for the under-21s. Forrest has won 13 caps Scotland national football team.
His younger brother, Alan Forrest, plays football for Ayr United.
Forrest had the prospect of a professional tennis career when he was younger. He was consistently approached by Prestwick Tennis Club to play for them, but he refused as he wanted to pursue his career in football. He was described by coaches at the club as being a naturally talented player, who could just "pick up a racquet and play".
Forrest played for South Ayr Boys Club when he was younger, and consistently shone at every level. He was scouted by Celtic's talent spotter for Ayrshire, Jim Began, at the age of 11. Several other clubs such as Kilmarnock, Ayr United and Rangers were also interested in him. He signed youth terms with Celtic at the age of 13 and then joined Celtic's coaching school in Hamilton, which his coach Martin Millar credits with helping his development.
Forrest playing for Celtic in July 2010
On 30 August 2009, Forrest signed a four-year contract with Celtic. Their Head of Youth development, Chris McCart, hailed him as one of the best players in Celtic's U19 squad. Forrest had always excelled at Celtic, with a match program from 2004 singling him out for exceptional performances in the under-13 squad. He then made his first team debut for Celtic on 1 May 2010, coming on as a late substitute against Motherwell. He scored the third of Celtic's goals in a 4–0 win.
He made his first European appearance for the club in a Champions League qualifying game against Braga in July 2010. A few days later he won the man of the match award for his performance in the Emirates Cup game with Olympique Lyonnais. He continued this fine form into the league campaign, scoring against St Mirren in a 4–0 victory. Forrest was named the SPL Young Player of the Month for August 2010 He would score another two goals, both against Hearts, before being rewarded for his form with a new five-year deal on 28 January 2011. Forrest collected his first winner's medal on 21 May 2011 when he came on a late second-half substitute for Kris Commons in Celtic's 3–0 Scottish Cup Final win over Motherwell.
In August 2011, Scott Brown said that Forrest was the best player to come out of the Celtic youth academy since Aiden McGeady. Forrest scored his first goal of the season in a 5–1 victory against Dundee United and his performances in the month of September, including two goals in a 4–0 victory against Motherwell and another goal against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, saw him win SPL Young Player of the Month. In Celtic's Scottish League Cup quarter final tie with Hibernian on 26 October, Forrest was credited with a match winning performance. Celtic went in at the break 1–0 down but Forrest was instrumental in reigniting the tie after half-time, with two early goals. On 31 October 2011, Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur's chief scout Ian Broomfield was reported to have watched Forrest in action. Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp later confirmed this was true and that he believed Forrest to be a good player. However, he also said that at that stage he had not considered making a bid for Forrest. In November 2011, the Scottish Football Association's Dutch performance director Mark Wotte, who helped start the careers of players like Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, said that he sees Forrest as being "the light in the darkness" of Scottish football. He said that if more players like Forrest are produced then the Scotland team will be able to match the performance of countries like Uruguay, who got to the 2010 World Cup semi-final and at the time were fourth in the FIFA World Rankings despite having a population smaller than Scotland's. Forrest won the SPL Young Player of the Month award for November, his second of the season. In January 2012, Forrest was named one of the 13 players to watch in 2012 by world football governing body FIFA. Forrest's season ended after suffering an injury during Celtic's defeat to Kilmarnock in the Scottish League Cup Final. He finished the season having scored nine goals and won his second major honour at the end of the season when Celtic finished as SPL Champions. His form over the season also saw him win two personal awards as both the Scottish Football Writers' Association and Professional Footballers' Association Scotland voted him their respective Young Player of the Year.
Forrest played in all four UEFA Champions League qualifiers in August 2012 as Celtic successfully reached the group stage for the first time since 2009. He played in three out of six group stage matches and made an impact as a substitute as Celtic came from behind to secure a vital 3–2 victory away to Spartak Moscow. However, much of the campaign saw Forrest plagued with niggling injuries and he missed Celtic's famous 2–1 victory against Barcelona. He scored his first goal of the season in a 4–0 victory against Ross County in Celtic's final home game of 2012. Forrest scored another three goals in the new year and played in both legs of Celtic's 5–0 aggregate defeat to Italian side Juventus in the last 16 of the Champions League. Forrest finished the season with a second consecutive league title and his second Scottish Cup winners medal after starting Celtic's 3–0 triumph over Hibernian in the final.
In July 2013, Forrest scored his first European goal for Celtic in a first round Champions League Qualifier against Cliftonville. In the following month he scored against Aberdeen in the league and the highlight of his Celtic career came in the final seconds of the second leg in the Champions League play-off against Shakhter Karagandy as Forrest scored the third and decisive goal in a 3–2 aggregate win which secured his club a place in the group stage for the second year in a row. Forrest missed all of Celtic's games in September after suffering from a virus. His return to action in an October saw Forrest score an impressive goal against Hibernian and he scored a penalty in Celtic's 2–1 victory against Ajax in the Champions League group stage. Forrest was arrested by police in November 2013 over allegations of indecent exposure and sexual assault at a nightclub in Prestwick. He would score another two goals in the league and win a third League title in a row despite his season ending due to an injury he picked up in a March whilst on international duty.
Forrest's injury issues continued after suffering a hamstring injury against Dundee in the first home game of the season. He only returned from injury in November and despite scoring his first goal of the season against St Mirren in December, Forrest was in and out of the first time throughout the winter as both the play and coaching staff did not feel confident that Forrest's injury problems were over. He featured more often for Celtic in the Spring and came on a substitute in Celtic's 2–0 victory against Dundee United in the Scottish League Cup Final and scored the second goal and missed a penalty. Forrest win his seventh major honour as Celtic won the league for the fourth year in a row.
Forrest signed a three-year contract with Celtic in August 2016.
Forrest has been capped for Scotland at under-16 and under-19 level. He made his Scotland under 19 debut on 20 October 2008 in a European Championship qualifier against Azerbaijan.
Following his fine club form at the start of the 2010–11 season, Forrest was called into the Scotland U21 side. On 7 September, he came off the bench for Scotland U21s and assisted in the 89th minute for Chris Maguire to score the winning goal against Austria. On 17 May 2011, Forrest was selected in Craig Levein's Scotland senior team to face Wales and the Republic of Ireland in the Nations Cup. He made his full international debut on 29 May 2011 in the match against the Republic of Ireland. Forrest then came on as a substitute in Scotland's 2–1 win over Denmark on 10 August.
On 22 December 2011, it was revealed that Forrest had been invited to the Great Britain team for the 2012 Summer Olympics, but did not make the final cut for the Games.
Style of play
Although Forrest's favoured position is on the right wing, he can also play on the left or as a striker.
Forrest is very quick and also has very good ball control and dribbling skills. This gives him the capability of beating his man and going down the wing, or coming inside and beating several players. His then manager, Neil Lennon, has said how over his first few seasons at Celtic he has been able to extend the distance of his "explosive runs" from 15 or 20 yards up to 30 or 40 yards. Forrest is also a very good finisher and, although predominantly right footed, also capable with his left. Forrest has great fitness levels and is generally able to keep playing at a very high intensity throughout the whole of a match. He has been described as a very enthusiastic player who has an incredible hunger and desire for the game and shows great bravery and vision in his play. Former Rangers winger, and Scotland under-21 teammate, Gregg Wylde described him as being the kind of player who never hides from his responsibility during a match.
Although he has been compared to former Celtic player Aiden McGeady, he is generally seen as being much more direct. He is more often compared to the old fashioned variety of Scottish wingers like Jimmy Johnstone, of Celtic, or Willie Henderson, of Rangers. Former Celtic legend Bertie Auld described him as being the kind of player who 'puts bums in seats' and then has the technical ability to "lift bums off the seats once the game starts".