WHEN Celtic jet off to France next week for a series of pre-season friendlies, Neil Lennon will be primarily concerned with getting his players up to speed ahead of the forthcoming Premiership campaign.

Getting minutes under their belts and facing opponents for the first time since March should provide Lennon’s charges with plenty of motivation to spur them on, while the prospect of sealing an unprecedented tenth consecutive league title when the season kicks off next month will raise the intensity levels by a notch or two.

James Forrest has spent enough time in and around the first team at Parkhead to know what demands are placed on players as they bid to get match fit for the new season but even for him, one of next week’s fixtures will have a touch of novelty about it as the winger is reunited with his former team-mate Moussa Dembele.

The French forward swapped Glasgow for Lyon two years ago in a deadline day move and has gone from strength to strength at the Groupama Stadium in that time. But even though Dembele has been plying his trade overseas, Forrest says that the sense of unity emanating from the Celtic dressing room meant that the 23-year-old has not forgotten his time in Glasgow’s east end in a hurry.

“Everybody will be buzzing to see him,” Forrest said. “Most of the boys here played with Moussa and it always feels a wee bit strange when you go from that to playing against someone.

“Moussa has kept in touch. He came over when we got the league trophy last year and he was in the dressing-room with us after the match.

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“We’ve had a really tight, close squad for the last few years and it’s the same with a few others who have left. They keep in touch and are always welcome.”

When Brendan Rodgers brought Dembele to Celtic in the summer of 2016, the deal was seen as something of a coup. The Fulham forward was highly regarded at Craven Cottage and had no shortage of admirers but because of the rules governing cross-border development fees, Dembele was recruited for around £500,000 – a fraction of the compensation an English club would have had to shell out for the talented youngster.

After leaving Celtic two years later and banking the club a transfer fee of around £20 million, the Dembele deal proved to be one of the most profitable in the Parkhead club’s history. Forrest says that he and his team-mates were aware of the striker’s ability and potential before he pitched up at Parkhead, and that his subsequent success since moving to Lyon has come as no surprise to anyone who has trained alongside him.

Forrest recalled: “I remember hearing we were going to sign him and being impressed.

“We benefited from the [cross-border] rule because if he had stayed in England he would have cost a lot of money.

“The club managed to get a deal done and we were excited. We had all seen him playing before and a couple of lads in the Scotland squad had also played with or against him when he was at Fulham.

“We all knew he was highly-rated and it lifts everyone when you find out a player of that quality is signing for you.

“As a winger he was a great forward to play against. He’d always make good runs and give you something to hit but, more than that, he would also win us games on his own.

“He stepped up in European games and led the line brilliantly. He has continued to do well since moving to Lyon.”

There is no shortage of players who have left Celtic Park in recent years and gone on to prove themselves at a higher level. Virgil van Dijk is the most obvious example but others like Victor Wanyama, Fraser Forster and more recently Kieran Tierney are others who have moved onto bigger and better things since their time at Parkhead.

Forrest has played alongside the lot of them and the 29-year-old says he’s content with his lot at the club, insisting that he has no regrets about staying after seeing others thrive after departing the perennial Scottish champions.

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When asked if he ever feels a hint of jealousy when former team-mates move on to pastures new, he replied: “No, I don’t. If you ask any of the boys we’re buzzing for any player who goes on to play for another team and does well.

“When a player goes down to a Prem team or like Moussa goes abroad, we are all hoping he does well because it looks good for Celtic and for us.

“It shows that we have a standard of player that an improve top teams in Europe.

“It’s good when you see these players move on and play in the Champions league and so on.”

One player who looks destined to land Celtic an eight-figure fee at some point or another is star striker Odsonne Edouard. The 22-year-old’s name is a regular fixture in gossip columns with one European heavyweight or another apparently perpetually mulling over a bid for the Frenchman.

Speculation surrounds Edouard’s future and the whispers linking him with a big-money move elsewhere never truly abide, but Forrest is hopeful that the former PSG forward will stick around long enough to make history with Lennon’s side – and perhaps even a little longer, too.

“Everyone at the club, especially the players, want him to stay for another few years if possible,” Forrest explained.

“We’re with him every day, we see the stuff he does in training and we want to keep him with us.

“Maybe in a few years he’ll decide to go somewhere else but he is a big talent and we want him to hang around.”