Callum McGregor: Last game at Ibrox was turning point for me

Callum McGregor  celebrates with team-mate Mikael Lustig after putting Celtic ahead against Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS Group
Callum McGregor celebrates with team-mate Mikael Lustig after putting Celtic ahead against Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS Group
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Anyone catching sight of 
Callum McGregor interacting with his electronic devices this week might be inclined to think they are beset by some sort of jamming issue.

Only one piece of footage has been playing on them over and over again since Sunday. A first goal against Rangers by the boyhood Celtic fan was always going to result in repeated viewing, particularly as it was so aesthetically pleasing – a class pass of a finish after a superb knock-down by Moussa Dembele – and set Brendan Rodgers’ team on their way to a Scottish Cup final in which they will look to clinch a treble. McGregor was never going to have eyes for anything else over recent days.

“I have watched it a fair few times,” he confessed. “It was nice. I saw it coming, seen the defender [Danny Wilson] in the way and just tried to bend it round him. When it came I saw the goalkeeper [Wes Foderingham] and the defender on the same line, so I thought that, if I got enough on it, then it would go in. I took it so quick. It did look more like a pass into the net.”

It is now a goal that has moved past any of the other 14 that McGregor has scored for Celtic in the past three years – which includes vital strikes in Champions League qualifiers. “I think so, especially with the occasion and it was great to score against the club’s biggest rivals,” he said.

It was a big goal, in a big game for a performer who has become a big player for the club, no less than one of 
Rodgers’ new favourites in recent months.

Only seven players have made more appearances – in terms of starts and sub outings combined – for Celtic this season. Few thought that 
McGregor, for all the finesse and craft apparent in his game, would be more than a bit-part player in Rodgers’ regime. The fact he is so much more he puts down to the Hogmanay trip to Ibrox, which leads him to consider his season will come full 
circle when Celtic return there on Saturday for the campaign’s sixth and final derby.

“I spoke to the manager the week before [the last game at Ibrox] and he said how I was part of his plans. He said he wanted to me to go and kick on and it was a big game for me. He urged me to go and show people I could play. After that game it gave me the confidence I could play in one of the biggest games.

“That was the turning point for me and it’s been in my head ever since then to really go and kick on. We now go back there on Saturday and it’s funny how football works sometimes. There are games that stick in your head, so I’ll go back there on Saturday with that good memory. Hopefully, I’ll be full of confidence again.”

Rodgers has imbued him with that belief because he can’t stop enthusing about a player invaluable in how he links together Celtic’s penetrative probing in such compact and efficient fashion.

“It’s been great to hear,” McGregor said. “I’ve read the wee bits he’s been saying and that just gives me more confidence to go and kick on.

“It makes a difference. You see a lot of the time that it’s the goalscorers who get the most praise. So for him to take a step back and look at it from a different perspective, it’s good for me.

“For me, he’s improved everything about my game. Technically and tactically, I think everyone here has come a long way since the start of the season. I certainly think that myself. I feel I’m learning more and more every day.

“It‘s then great to put that into practice and see it coming together in a game like Sunday’s. It gives you massive confidence that what you’re doing is working.”

McGregor is that rarest of individuals, a player that might be described as 
of the utility variety that doesn’t feel burdened by his 
adaptability.

“If you can play in different positions, it can ultimately help you get in the team. I feel it’s good for me, too, in that I’m relatively young and learning all these different positions playing at a high level. You sometimes have players who can play only in one position but I’m seeing the game from three or four different positions and trying to adapt, learn and take things in. I feel it’s good for my development.

“Some players might look at it differently and see it as a hindrance, but I just think it gives you more of an opportunity to play and help you get into the team. I see it as a positive.

“When I first came to Celtic I was a left winger, then I went to left-back, right-back, right wing and then centre-mid. I think the only place I’ve not played is in goals. I’ve moved around a lot but I do prefer that central role because I feel as though I 
can get on the ball more and influence the game.”