As winners of the last nine domestic trophies open to them, Celtic are an unlikely target for accusations of slipping standards.
It is, however, a criticism that has been levelled at them over the years, most commonly following the club’s European exits – with a lack of competition in Scotland cited as the reason why.
Yet, as the Hoops continue to campaign on two fronts, goalkeeper Fraser Forster insists the internal battle for places is keeping the club on course for both nine-in-a-row and
the Europa League knockout stages.
“It is crucial that you have that competition, especially here where there are so many games. I think everyone is going to play at some point,” he said.
“That competition is crucial. It gets the best out of the players in the team.
“You can’t take your foot off the gas because there is always going to be someone breathing down your neck, ready to take your place.
“We have a great squad and a great atmosphere within that squad. We all want to win and push each other to be better.”
Forster’s obvious gain, in terms of getting a jersey on his return to Celtic Park on loan from Southampton, has been Craig Gordon’s clear loss.
The Englishman has sympathy for his fellow No. 1, not least because, as he acknowledged, there are similarities between the two men.
Both made big-money moves from Scotland to England’s top flight with Sunderland paying a then record £9 million for Gordon in 2007 and Forster switching to Southampton for £10 million seven years later.
Both represented their countries, Scotland and England respectively, only to go on and suffer the humbling experience of being frozen out at club level.
“I understand Craig’s position more than anyone,” said Forster, who sat out almost the entire 2018-19 season after losing his place to Alex McCarthy.
“When I’ve been out, I’ve always tried to be the best guy for the one who is playing because that’s just the way it goes.
“It’s hard being a keeper because if you are not playing it can be frustrating.
“At the same time, it is not the other keeper’s fault because he doesn’t pick the team.
“I just always wanted to be the best guy when I wasn’t playing too.
“It’s a team game and you don’t want to drag everyone else down.
“You just have to be ready, because if we want to win things as a squad then ultimately it will take all of us.
“I didn’t play a lot in pre-season – I only got two halves.
“But I’ve felt good here form the very first game I have played in.”
Mohammed Elyounoussi, Forster’s fellow-loan-player from Southampton, staked his claim for greater involvement with an impressive display in last Thursday night’s win over Cluj.
“I was really pleased for Moi,” said the keeper.
“It has been a tough year for him too, and that will do him the world of good.
“He was absolutely brilliant against Cluj and capped it off with the goal. That can only boost his confidence and also help the team to know we have players like that to come in and make an impact.”
In Elyounoussi’s case, there is obvious competition for a spot out on the left, with Scott Sinclair and Mikey Johnston both eager for game time.
While not criticising his new team-mates, Forster was happy to sing the praises of the man with whom he shares a parent club.
“Moi is a fantastic technical player, great touch and ability,” said the big keeper.
“He probably doesn’t have the same pace that James Forrest brings on the other side, but he has fantastic attributes and has done it at international level over the past few years.
“The run of games will do him good and I’m sure he will build on what he did against Cluj.”
Just as well with a double-header against Lazio next up for the Hoops.
“We can go into those games with a lot of confidence,” said Forster.
“We got a good away point in the first game and now we have added to that.
“It’s hard to say whether Lazio are the strongest team in the group – looking at the Cluj result in the first game, they got beat.
“It looks like one of those groups where everyone can beat everyone else so we are going to have to be bang at in every game, home and away.”
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