A match-winning goal in a Champions League qualifier in Iceland was Callum McGregor’s first telling contribution to Celtic’s senior side. It came in Ronny Deila’s first competitive game in charge.
Prior to that game in July 2014, McGregor, right, had seemed destined to be a promising home-grown product who never made the breakthrough, and disappeared on loan deals – Notts County, in his case – before a permanent break.
The very fact than that the 22-year-old has become a reliable senior squad member under Deila ensures he is always going to have a debt of gratitude to the Norwegian, a man who also stood by him after his shameful drink-driving charge earlier this year. Yet, McGregor is philosophical about Deila’s impending departure, which surely would have been set for summer by the club if the 40-year-old hadn’t got in there first this week.
“The manager came in and had a meeting with all the boys before we went out for training, he told us the news and that was it,” he said. “Obviously I’m a bit disappointed, he’s been great for me. He put me in the team to start with, showed faith in me, and he’s been good on and off the pitch with me. He’s always the type of guy you can go and speak to about your concerns and opinions. He let my Celtic career take off and even though he’s leaving I still want to be here, so it’s important for me to kick on now and go and make an impact.
“The people high up at the club thought a change was best. So if it’s best for the club, it’s good for everyone and we can move on and focus on these next five games and on to next season. I know he’s always trying to set high standards, the whole club does, and every season the aim is to win as many games as we can, win trebles, get into the Champions League. So you can say everyone’s disappointed with that. Especially after Sunday as well, losing to our closest rivals.”
The high standards of physical conditioning do not appear to have been met. They certainly looked lacking at stages during last Sunday’s penalty shoot-out Scottish Cup semi-final defeat. Leigh Griffiths might have declared suggestion Celtic players weren’t fit as “bollocks” this week but McGregor, known to put in extra sessions on the training pitch, has an interesting response to that issue.
“As a professional, you look after yourself,” he said. “People can tell you what to do and tell you how you feel but you know yourself what you need and that’s down to the professionalism of the guys as much as the people in charge. Fitness is a personal issue you have to address yourself so I don’t think any blame can lie with the manager for that. The training sessions are there, everyone’s doing 100 per cent of what they’re being asked to do by the manager, so if there’s a question mark it’s against the players themselves and they have to take the brunt of it.”McGregor, along with Tom Rogic, seemed to shake Celtic from their torpor when introduced late on against Rangers at Hampden. It was ill-deserved that the pair proved also the culprits in missing penalties, the Scot smacking the crossbar before Rogic skied an effort over to settle the issue after the newly relaid turf bevelled. McGregor comes from a Celtic supporting family and that made the semi-final loss all the more agonising.
“All my family, my brother and my mum they all hurt. They are all Celtic fans and there are Celtic fans in the team. You never want to lose any football games but when it is to your rivals it is tough.
“And when you are talking with the boys at the start of the week you are always thinking about every touch: how could I have done that better, done this better. I have just watched the highlights of the game back – I didn’t want to be hiding under the covers for two days. I missed a penalty but if you asked me again would I take one I would. It is just trying to bounce back from that and bounce back as a group.” For some as well as their manager that isn’t going to be possible.