With the divorce between Celtic and Brendan Rodgers still raw this summer, Callum McGregor found himself as something of collateral damage. With Rodgers wishing to re-enter another marriage with the midfielder whose game he elevated significantly during the course of his Parkhead tenure, Celtic were reluctant to allow their former manager to be seen to cherry-pick their best players.
There are some who might have agitated and made a public show of stamping their feet. Whatever McGregor may have thought of the situation privately – and few would deny him the chance of increasing his salary and playing in a more prestigious league – he accepted the situation with quiet professionalism. And went on to pick up where he left off. Having committed his long-term future to Celtic with the signing of a five-year contract, it is to his credit that his focus is not on looking over his shoulder but on the road up ahead.
“The club were very keen on me staying, so while what happens is a pat on the back, once the club made their position clear it’s not like I was fighting it or anything,” he said. “I was happy, I wanted to stay.
“To be fair, the English Premier’s probably the best league around, you watch it and the standard’s good and you’d like to test yourself in it, but this is a big, big place to play football too, and the European campaign has highlighted that. It’s shown how big we are and how well we’re doing as a group of players.
“I love this club and it’s been very good to me, so you’re not looking to move. I was happy with their stance, so I just got my head down and got on with helping the team.
“I know how good this club’s been to me throughout the years and I was definitely looking to stay. So it was just a case of trying to get it done as quickly as possible and getting on with focusing on the football.
“As soon as pre-season starts you’re right into training and then the season comes and you’re playing big games right away, so as a footballer you just concentrate on the football. The club made it clear early on they wanted to keep me, so I was delighted with that and, like I say, from there it was just about getting it done.”
Having grown in stature for Celtic and Scotland, the armband seems a natural progression for McGregor. It has been passed to him on occasion but long-term it seems increasingly likely that he will sport it. “For me it’s a wee bit early to be talking about captaincy, but if it happens I’m happy to take it on,” he said. “I feel like I have enough experience within the group to use my voice. If it’s a natural progression, then that’d be great. It’s nice to have that experience. For me, it’s always just about enjoying my football and helping the team. I’m always trying to learn from guys like Broony so, again, it’s a nice pat on the back that when he goes off people look to you to be the next leader.”
Celtic’s midweek win over Rennes guarantees them top spot in Europa League Group E regardless of what happens in their final game in Romania. The manner of a campaign in which Celtic have taken 13 points from 15 has been impressive. The knockout stages will be a tougher challenge when they get going in February but McGregor is undaunted. “It’s important for us to make big strides in Europe, to go one better than we did last time,” he said. “We’ve topped the group, we’re happy with that and now we look forward to finishing it off against Cluj, then looking beyond.”