The goalkeeper went from strength to strength in the Europa League and is now shining in the Champions League
Precisely three years ago Fraser Forster was preparing for a League One fixture at Brighton. The goalkeeper was on his third loan spell away from Newcastle United, this time at Norwich City, while doing little to douse suspicion that he was destined for a nomadic career. Stockport County and Bristol Rovers had been his earlier, temporary ports of call.
By last November Forster had been dubbed La Gran Muralla – The Great Wall – by one Spanish newspaper in tribute to his exploits for Celtic during their famous 2-1 win against Barcelona. He was already, by then, a part of the England set-up. So when the 24-year-old Forster speaks about Celtic harbouring confidence that they can see off Juventus and progress to the Champions League's last eight, his opinion must be taken seriously. He is proof, after all, of football's capacity to reward those who think positively.
"It will take another two performances like the Barcelona one," Forster says. "The Juventus team is full of top-drawer players. It will take that collective spirit and belief we showed against Barcelona, plus a little bit of luck as well, to go through again. You have to go into the tie believing you can win. We have proved in this competition that we can produce the goods so everyone in the changing room has belief."
That is even when Forster is in direct competition with a player he has idolised since his youth, the Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. "He is one of the best shot-stoppers there has been in Europe over the last 15 years," Forster says.
"He has managed to stay at the top of his game for such a long time. The opportunity to play against him and see him in person will be something special. It will be fantastic to meet him, hopefully speak to him after the game, but we have a job to do first. These nights have been so enjoyable this season that you just want more and more."
Celtic's supporters may still pore over the night they humbled Barça but Forster is different. He had performed with similar authority weeks earlier in Catalonia, where Celtic were cruelly denied a draw by a stoppage-time Jordi Alba goal.
As Lionel Messi pulled a goal back in Glasgow, Forster's clear emotion was one of rage. "After what happened in the Camp Nou, it went to 2-1 and you are thinking: 'No, not again.' I actually haven't watched the game back at all. I have seen a few highlights in passing. I might have a proper look at the end of the season.
"I can pretty much remember every second, though. I spoke to Victor Valdés briefly. He was really positive about how I played and was the same when we lost in the Camp Nou. I got Messi's shirt, which was nice as well; he just said 'well done'. We didn't speak much but it means a lot when someone like that is complimentary about you."
Acclaim has not been in short supply for Forster, with his move to Glasgow pivotal to that. It was, again, initially on loan that he joined Celtic in the summer of 2010 and again in 2011. At first – and understandably, given his lack of exposure at such a prominent club – Forster cut a nervous figure, with his kicking particularly suspect.
Yet Celtic's Europa League matches last season saw the goalkeeper grow in confidence and stature. In the close season Neil Lennon was delighted to sign him on a long-term contract for £2m which has already proved fine business. "For me there wasn't a moment's doubt in coming back," Forster says. "The decision I made in the summer has been fully justified."
All of which rather raises the question: why had Newcastle not recognised Forster's talent? He signed within weeks of their current first-choice goalkeeper, Tim Krul, in 2005 and joined the academy but Forster was overlooked by the eight managers who came and went during the seven years his registration was held at St James' Park.
"I was there from the age of 17 but never really got a chance," Forster says. "Chris Hughton ended up getting the job; Chris is a fantastic guy and a brilliant manager who initially allowed me to come up here on loan. When I was here, Chris got sacked and the goalkeeping coach left as well. So I was out on loan when that change of manager happened and it is hard, in football, if you are not around at a time like that. You are forgotten about.
"The change of manager and coach didn't really help me there but I felt by that stage in my career that I needed to be playing week in, week out anyway. You dream of making it at your home-town club but you also have to realise that other people will only see you if you are out playing somewhere. I had said all along that I had no intention of not being a No1."
The most notable words of Hughton's successor, Alan Pardew, towards Forster were controversial ones. Pardew took a swipe at the standard of the Scottish game, claiming Forster would face a "completely different" level of football in England.
"People are entitled to their opinion," says Forster. "Various comments were made about my loan move here. I don't think people understand what Celtic is all about. They don't realise how big the club is until they come here and see it for themselves.
"It would be strange to go from here to another club where it doesn't matter if you don't win every game. Here, if you drop two points, you are getting abuse. It's just that level of expectation that the lads really enjoy. I think they enjoy the pressure that comes with being a Celtic player."
A neck strain prevented Forster from rejoining the England party for the friendly with Brazil. He will return, though, and with hopes of applying further pressure on Joe Hart. Longer term Forster's frustration at not breaking through at Newcastle will be channelled into a return to the Premier League.
"You are a bit nervous when you go into that [England] environment," Forster admits. "But I went in and everyone was brilliant with me. I have been grateful to have the opportunity to train there and work with Joe Hart. It gets a bit easier every time you do it, so hopefully I can stick around in those squads.
"It has been an ambition of mine growing up, to play for England. I have a taste for it now and, if I keep improving, then hopefully I can achieve that dream at some point. For me it is one of those where I can see what I am looking to achieve.
"I am a very ambitious person. Everyone wants to play in England but I would love to play abroad at some point as well. That's something I really want to do at some stage in my career but I am at a fantastic club at the minute, which I am more than happy about. But, yes, everybody wants to play in the Premier League at some point. There is a lot I want to achieve."
Most immediately that means the claiming of another Champions League scalp. If Celtic manage it, Forster will have been a crucial component.