‘Miracle’ save was moment I realised how much I had missed those huge Euro nights
MAYBE one day, when he’s old and grey, Danilo Cataldi will relate the story of a dank night in Glasgow’s east end.
The passing of time is unlikely to grant the Italian a greater understanding of how exactly it all ended with his head in his hands and his jaw gaping in astonishment.
Dubbed the ‘Miracle of expired time’ by La Gazzetta dello Sport, Fraser Forster’s block to deny the Lazio substitute’s hammer of a volley in the 94th minute stunned Celtic Park.
The moment was significant in many respects. Not only did it preserve the three points Neil Lennon’s side were on course for, thanks to Christopher Jullien’s late header to make it 2-1 against the Italians last month, it reaffirmed Forster as a goalkeeper of extraordinary talent.
The forgotten man of Southampton after playing just one first-team game in 20 months, that one flash of brilliance came to represent as much to him as any winners’ medal or international cap he had accrued up until that point.
‘For me, given the circumstances and the timing in the game, it was pretty much the last kick of the ball — everything around it made it a bigger save than it was,’ reflected Forster.
‘That moment is probably up there with the best in my career. It was an actual moment where you are like: “That’s why you play football”. That was probably the first moment when I was like: “That’s why I’m here. That’s what I’ve missed”.
‘It’s like when a striker is asked how it feels to score. You don’t get that feeling in any other aspect of life. To have that feeling back was something very special.
‘Probably, if I could pick one feeling out of my whole career, that would be the moment I appreciate the most.’
He must have dreamed of it a thousand times while struggling for relevance latterly at St Mary’s. For it to become reality just weeks after driving back to Glasgow proved highly emotional.
‘What a feeling,’ he smiled. ‘Those European nights are something special. Hard to put into words, really.
‘Last year is the first year that I have ever had like that in football. I didn’t take it for granted but when you go from playing to not playing, you don’t have a game to look forward to.
‘It is great to have that feeling back and that drive. I am making the most of it and enjoying every minute.’
A little love and appreciation can go a long way. Back under the stewardship of a manager who rates him and a coach who gets the best out of him in Stevie Woods, the return to Celtic has been hugely fulfilling.
‘I don’t know what it is about the place,’ pondered the keeper. ‘There are a lot of good people at the club. The manager has been brilliant with me and I am working with a great goalkeeping coach in Stevie Woods.
‘Stevie understands players. His sessions are great but I think he understands the mental side of the game, too.
‘He knows what makes each player tick. He’s worked with some incredible keepers during his time here.
‘He has a fantastic record. He took me from a League One keeper and turned me into an England international.
‘I am just happy at the moment. I am enjoying my football again.’
The danger Rangers pose to Celtic’s hopes of winning a ninth successive title is another stimulus. A factor absent from the Englishman’s last two seasons in a
Celtic jersey during his first spell at the club, the edge has recently returned to domestic affairs.
‘It is one of the big things up here: the demand on you — the pressure to win,’ said Forster.
‘You do miss that when you go down south because it is a different team, a different league and the targets are different.
‘Here you are expected to win every game and you need to do that if you want to win trophies and the league. It is a great pressure that makes you strive to be better and work hard.’
Contrary to some suggestions, it’s a stress he will gladly live with until May at the earliest.
Shooting down any notion that Southampton could recall him in January, the keeper’s communication with his parent club since August was telling.
‘It’s a season-long loan and I’ll be here until the end of the season,’ he said ‘I’ve not spoken to anyone (at Southampton) since I came up here. I’m a Celtic player for the year and that’s fine.’
With a highly-lucrative contract running until 2020 on the south coast, more factors will decide Forster’s long-term future than both his and Celtic’s desire to make his transfer permanent.
‘I want to make the most of my time,’ he said. ‘I had a tough year last year and the main thing was to get back to enjoying football.’
One box ticked, the prospect of reviving his England career is back in his thinking.
‘Yeah I would love to get back in there,’ he said. ‘But it’s out of my hands. I just need to play as well as I can and force someone else into making a decision.’
Livingston at Celtic Park on Saturday is a long way from Lazio in the Stadio Olimpico but the importance of the occasion cannot be understated.
With the Premiership looking like going the distance, Lennon’s men can ill-afford a repeat of the lax display that contributed to a 2-0 defeat to Gary Holt’s men in West Lothian last month.
‘It was a disappointing performance and result,’ said Forster. ‘But we have had a good reaction in the last month.’
Fraser Forster was promoting the second Celtic FC Festival at Glasgow’s SEC from July 24 to 26, 2020. Tickets are available from celticfcfestival.com Stupendous feat: Forster thwarts Cataldi to ensure an epic victory over Lazio