James Forrest can’t wait for a reunion with Moussa Dembele in France this week.
But he’s praying that Odsonne Edouard’s trip away from Scotland proves to be only a fleeting visit.
Celtic jet to the continent tomorrow as Neil Lennon steps up his pre-season preparations ahead of their 10-in-a-row tilt.
The Hoops are competing with Nice and Lyon for the Veolia Trophy along with rivals Rangers.
A clash with Patrick Vieira’s Eagles on Thursday will be followed by a glamour game against Lyon on Saturday and a chance to meet a familiar face in former Hoops strike hero Dembele.
The 23-year-old was a huge success during two seasons in Glasgow after signing in a cut-price cross-border deal before joining the Ligue 1 cracks in a £20million deal.
Dembele’s sale was a blow but softened by the fact compatriot Edouard had already joined Celtic in a club record deal from Paris-Saint Germain, who Celtic also face in a friendly on July 21.
Edouard is being touted for a move away this summer with Crystal Palace the latest club linked.
While Forrest admits he would never grudge any of his team-mates a lucrative move he hopes the club’s star striker sticks around.
Forrest – who celebrated his 29th birthday at the club’s Loughborough training base on Tuesday – said: “We will be buzzing to see Moussa.
“Most of the boys here played with him and it always feels a wee bit strange when you go from that to playing against someone.
“Moussa came over when we won the league trophy last year and was in the dressing-room with us after the match.
“We’ve had a close squad for the last few years and it’s the same with others who have left. They keep in touch and are always welcome.
“I remember hearing we were going to sign Dembele and being impressed. 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 with. 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.
“I don’t get jealous of players moving on. If you ask any of the boys we’re buzzing for any player who goes to another team and does well.
“When a player goes down to a Premier 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 can improve top teams in Europe.
“Maybe in a few years Odsonne will decide to move on but he is a big talent and we want him to hang around.
“Everyone at the club wants him to stay for another few years if possible. We’re with him every day, we see the stuff he does in training and want to keep him with us.”
Edouard succeeded Forrest after he was named Scottish Football Writers’ Player of the Year but didn’t get the chance to pick up his award at the annual bash in Glasgow due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Asked how the softly-spoken Frenchman’s speech would have compared, Forrest joked: “It would be on a par with mine ... or maybe even better to be fair!
“He is quiet and chilled. It was class to see him get it and thoroughly deserved but he will be buzzing that he didn’t need to give a speech.”
Forrest admitted the French experience will be surreal without fans but such classy opposition will help them when the competitive action gets underway.
He said: “We’ve been doing double sessions. It has been hard but these games will force us to step it up again.
“Behind closed doors will be strange and new. Even in pre-season, no matter where we go in Europe or wherever, the Celtic fans always turn up.
“There may be a few people in the stadium but it will be a strange experience. It will be good to get a feel for that before the league starts.
“I’ve watched some games on TV but it’s important to experience playing in empty stadiums for ourselves.
“I’m sure the manager will give us advice on how to cope with that because it will be strange.
“I’m relaxed enough about travelling. From day one we have had a safe environment. It has been strict, everything has been done properly and it has been a success.”
Forrest has picked up an astonishing 19 major honours at Celtic and blew out the candles on his birthday cake during the week.
The grounded winger said: “I didn’t get to celebrate too much but that’s normal.
“Every year we’re away for pre-season on my birthday.
“I got a cake so that was nice. I’m 29 now and one of the oldest players here. The likes of Jonny Hayes and Craig Gordon have gone so that has moved me up the list.
“I don’t see myself as an experienced player. I don’t feel 29 put it that way!”