Commons: Celtic prospering because I quit Scots

KRIS COMMONS does many things well.

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Kris Commons expects Anthony Stokes and Leigh Griffiths to be right among the goals again next season
Kris Commons expects Anthony Stokes and Leigh Griffiths to be right among the goals again next season

Scoring goals, collecting Player of the Year awards. Irony.

So it has not slipped the attention of the astute Celt that, in his best-ever season, questions are once again being asked about his premature retirement from international football.

How can a man who has scored 28 goals for his club, helping them clinch a third consecutive championship, not be a pivotal figure in the Scotland side about to embark on another European Championship qualifying programme?

The answer is in the above, as Commons is happy to point out, and it is why the midfielder voted the PFA Premiership's top man is not about to commit to any form of U-turn.

"The facts are there to see that, when I did quit Scotland for club football and family reasons, I kind of kicked on," said Commons.

"I'm playing a lot more freely. I've not been worrying about people watching me to see if I'm going to get into that international squad.

"It was a bit of a carry on where, when I was available for selection, I never got picked.

"Then, all of a sudden, when I quit the international scene, people were saying, 'Get him back in.'

"It's a weird position I got put into in the last 12 months. But I have no regrets.

"I'm loving spending as much time as I can with my family. And the happier you are off the park, the better you play on the park."

So Gordon Strachan's continued loss is Neil Lennon's gain.

It's a situation which appears to have served both parties well as Scotland have moved up to 22nd spot in the Fifa rankings, while Commons has blasted to the top of the scoring charts at Celtic and is on course to match his age with goals.

Thirty is a magic number when it represents how many times you have hit the net. It has much darker connotations when it refers to how many years you have on the clock.

Commons is cool with both, and is only interested in getting the two goals which will take him to his best-ever tally in a career which spans 14 years and four clubs.

The man who passed up the chance to score his 29th of the campaign when he allowed Anthony Stokes to take the penalty against Inverness at the weekend, reflected: "It is quite a tally, for me, anyway. I've never done it before. When I first came here, I got 14 to add to the 15 I'd scored that season for Derby and Scotland.

"I always feel I'm going to be in good positions and good areas of the pitch.

"Anywhere within 25-30 yards out, I am always looking to take the shot on. And I'm always trying to get in the box and to score goals.

"That's because I have got such a good midfield behind me and this has allowed me to get forward more.

"But, next year, I will not be thinking, 'Oh, I'm going to get 25 goals this season. That'll be Stokesy and Leigh. That's in their DNA. That's their job."

This admission is not a case of resting on his laurels, but a typically-realistic appraisal of how the game changes, and players' roles within it.

Commons is one of the most intelligent footballers you can hope to meet, officer material who is already being tipped to move from the playing field to the technical area.

But not for a while. There is work still to be done, and targets to be achieved, including hitting 30 goals before the campaign medals are handed out on May 11. The arrival in January of Leigh Griffiths saw him drop from Celtic's front line, but his strike rate remained impressive.

The confidence gleaned from hitting the net 20 times before Stokes and Griffiths were brought together made sure of that.

"That confidence was important," agreed Commons. "I have had seasons where I've scored minimal goals, six, seven, one. This year, I have been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, and it has been an exceptional 12 months for myself. My best before was 29. I'm one short of that just now. If I can get to 30, that will be magic. I've got three games left to try and get the two goals I need.

"I always feel I'm going to be in good positions to score, and that is just a reflection of the confidence I'm carrying at the minute.

"But, the likes of Stokesy, Leigh, and people coming back into the side, such as James Forrest and Sami [Georgios Samaras], will all be looking to get into good areas, too, to get goals."

Commons' touch in front of goal has been applauded throughout the land, and further afield.

His close pal, Gary Hooper, has undoubtedly been delighted to see him fill his shooting boots since he left for Norwich last summer.

However, the Englishman has resisted the temptation to shower his friend in praise for taking over his mantle.

"He hasn't said anything about it," confirmed Commons. "He is delighted, though, that we've won the league again and are doing well.

"Gary's one of the best I've ever played with, and he always keeps an eye on what we are doing and has been up to support us a few times.

"I don't think he will ever forget his time at this club."

Many of the highlights Hooper enjoyed playing alongside Commons came in big European games.

The qualifiers for next season's Champions League are already filling the thoughts of the players and management at Parkhead who accept their outcome defines the entire season.

They can also determine what kind of a squad the club has, as Commons explained.

"The big draw for anyone coming to play for Celtic, or staying with Celtic, is certain European football.

"If we didn't have European football, obviously, there is a calibre of player we wouldn't be able to attract.

"So, the likes of Fraser Forster, Virgil van Dijk, Mikael Lustig, people who have got aspirations of playing for their national team and playing at the top level, need to be playing European football.

"Playing in Scotland, it's not the English Premier League. You need to be involved in European football to be recognised as playing at the top of your game.

"I think that's why Fraser has done so well and got his recognition with his cap for England.

"If we were not playing European football, I don't think he would get that sort of opportunity."

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