KRIS COMMONS feels "blessed".
It is the sentiment of a man content with his lot but who hasn't forgotten the dark days either. The best season of the Celtic forward's career has helped bring about a third successive title for his club but also delivered personal recognition from his peers. On Sunday night he was voted PFA Scotland's Player of the Year, while a further nod from the nation's scribblers - the Scottish Football Writers Association - could follow.
Commons, a self-assured, strong-minded individual, doesn't seem the type to be fazed by anything but being selected as the best footballer in the country evidently took him by surprise. "I never had aspirations or dreams to be voted Player of the Year so it's all a bit overwhelming," he admitted. "It's something I'm very honoured to be a part of."
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Such has been Commons' influence this season - he has weighed in with 28 goals - that it seems hard to recall there was a period not so long ago when he wasn't a regular pick in Neil Lennon's selection. That, though, was the situation in his first full season at Celtic, a campaign which followed a remarkable first few months when he scored 14 goals in just over three months.
That second season, however, was a tale of injury, loss of form and frustration, a period that left Commons feeling as if he were stuck in a "dark tunnel". He scored just once as he drifted to the fringes, unable to wield any significant influence.
"In the second year I picked up a few injuries," he recalled. "I was on the bench quite a bit, not getting enough gametime. The games that I was playing in, I was probably trying too hard to emulate what had happened the season before. The harder you try the worse you play.
"That was the year I didn't feel part of the main starting XI. I had a few injuries and picked up a silly red card at Hearts out of frustration. That was a learning curve for myself. I'd never been in that position when I wasn't making an impact in games. I was kind of an outcast. That soon changed and I finished the season on a high. I feel blessed to be in this position because, in the second season, I was in what felt like a dark tunnel.
"Now I feel on top of the world. I think that's why I don't take anything for granted. You never know when football might just turn and you go through that drought again. But at the moment I'm loving every minute. I don't think there is any club like it when you're playing well and scoring goals, but it's certainly a dark place when you're not doing well."
Commons' career almost never got started at all. As a 17-year-old, he had not long broken into the Stoke City side when he damaged his cruciate ligament. The subsequent lengthy period of rehabilitation gave him plenty of time to think about his future.
"It was a bit of a body blow because I'd just got into the team at Stoke City," he added. "I was doing well. I played 10 games and that was me for the season. But, looking back, it probably made me a bit stronger and gave me a bit more desire to get back in the team. I appreciated what I might have lost. When you're a young kid getting all the press and hype, everyone's saying 'you have to come and watch this kid' it was good. Probably that blow knocked me back to reality and showed I couldn't take it for granted.
"That was my first serious injury. I was only a young kid who hadn't had injuries. Next thing I was having an operation, being cut open with screws and bolts. You think you might never get back on the field but luckily I had good rehab and a good surgeon who got me back on my feet and I've never had problems since."
Now the Celtic team effectively revolves around Commons. He has a year remaining on his contract and is making positive noises about hoping to extend that further, believing he can still play at the highest level for a further three or four years. His performances have led to a heightened sense of expectation every time he takes to the field but he is happy to be burdened with that responsibility.
"At all the clubs I've been to - Stoke, Derby and [Nottingham] Forest - people always looked at me as a player who would create something," he said. "So it's nothing new to me that people expect me to do something good on the park.
"When you're playing week in week out, scoring goals and part of as really good team there is nothing better. I know how quickly that can change when your form dips and you have off days. But I think I'm old enough and wise enough now to take the pressure."-