When Callum McGregor stepped into the office beside the Celtic Park boardroom to put his signature on a new four-year contract, his mind flashed back 11 years to the moment which signalled the start of his journey as a professional footballer.
Now 24, McGregor’s reward for the role he has played in Brendan Rodgers’ revitalisation of the Scottish champions is an improved deal which ties him to the club until 2021.
During his emotional moment of reflection this week, the midfielder gave thanks to the part played in his development by the late Tommy Burns, his mentor at youth level with the club.
“When I signed the contract the other day, it was the first time I’d been in that little room just off the boardroom since I sat there with Tommy and my parents to sign my first professional youth contract when I was 13,” said McGregor. “That was a nice feeling and I felt emotional at the time. I texted my mum after signing the contract. She said it was nice to see how far I have come in the years since then. It’s a proud moment to tie my future down at the club where I’ve spent the bulk of my career.
“Tommy Burns was a massive influence for me coming all the way through. He would be at first-team training during the day then come to supervise us at youth training at 6pm. We would still be there at 10pm, practising free-kicks. He wouldn’t let us go home. He was just that kind of guy, he loved football dearly.”
McGregor has actually been connected to Celtic since he was eight years old and began attending training sessions.
“I remember that first trial, my dad driving me to it,” he said. “We were in a development centre and they all came together for the trial at Cumbernauld Juniors. I remember coming back for another on the Saturday.
“Five or six of us were eventually signed into the youth system. That trial still sticks in my mind. Brian Meehan was the head of youth, Mark Millar was the coach and Tommy Burns was overseeing it. I was a left-winger back in those days, a tricky winger. I don’t know where all that went!”
McGregor, who spent a season on loan at Notts County in English League One in 2013-14, insists he was never concerned that he would have to pursue his career anywhere other than Celtic in the longer term.
“I don’t think so,” he added. “It was just about me trying to break through and making people sit up and say ‘he can play here at Celtic’. It was never in my mind to say ‘you know what, this isn’t for me’. I was always trying to prove people wrong, get into the team and do well in big games. It has turned full circle. I am happy with that. To sign here for another four years is great. It is a great club, a great place to play and it is where I want to play football.
“It’s been a progression since I broke into the first team, step by step. The new contract was a no-brainer for me, especially off the back of last season. Everything was going well. I came back in and everything has continued going well. For me, the manager has made a great impact on me.
“My confidence has grown. The manager has given me that. He has put me in in big games and I have done well. Everything builds from there. I am still working hard every day in training. To play in this team you have got to be at your best every day. That is the level for me. I come in every morning and say ‘if I am going to play on Saturday I am going to have to be on it’. That is the mindset that the manager has put in the group. You need to be at it every single day.”