Emotional Callum McGregor opens up on Celtic's recent strife and need to play David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro
Celtic supporters seem to have all-too-readily forgotten that they do not have the monopoly on emotional woundings over events at their club.
Callum McGregor could have the most hard-hearted reaching for the hankies in articulating how deeply he has been affected by the heavy battle losses on the pitch of late, and the internecine warfare it has provoked between those inside and outside the club.
The 27-year-old led from the front in wearing the armband in the 3-2 win over Lille on Thursday night. An evening in which a freshened-up side, in which European debutants David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro – selected ahead of Tom Rogic and Scott Brown – excelled, to stop the rot that had been eating away at Neil Lennon’s men.
A first victory in six games, and only a third in 13 games, bought the club breathing space. Only a smidgen, though. Celtic require to show the same verve, and claim the same outcome, at home to Kilmarnock on Sunday. The only means of avoiding a complete extinguishing of the, now only flickering, hopes of overturning Rangers 13-point title advantage … and claiming a tenth straight championship the crazed obsession by the club faithful’s demands.
McGregor’s yearning for a winning run is framed by a desperate desire for his own fans to stop seeing their players as the enemy, and their own manager and board legitimate targets for a vicious campaign to oust them. The Scotland international doesn’t skirt over the gut-wrenching upset caused fan protests that resulted in the Celtic team bus being pelted with missiles following the miserable draw with St Johnstone at Parkhead last Sunday.
Part and parcel of being from Glasgow
"It's been tough. I've been here for so long and it's part of you,” said McGregor, who demonstrated his own toughness against Lille in converting a penalty minutes after he was responsible for a horrible, goal-costing error. “You carry it about with you every day. That's just part and parcel of being from Glasgow. You grow up with this club, I've been here since I was eight, and it's difficult when the chips are down. You carry it with you every day and you think of ways to help and do better. It has been a tough time but we never give up. This is a team with a strong mentality and good characters. Our job as more experienced boys is to help the younger ones through it.
"This is the time when we all have to stick together – players, management, board, fans, everyone. We need that togetherness as it can be a strong thing. That is my message – we need to be together. We need to attack this on the front foot and it can be another good season for us. This club has been built on so much success by the principles of sticking together. Everyone inside and outside the building wants the same thing, so this is the moment when we need to be together.”
Every one of the club’s supporters wants the same thing on one front at least: to see Turnbull and Soro retained for the visit of the Rugby Park side. McGregor appears of a similar mind in offering up glowing technical reviews of what the pair brought to the team against Lille. Turnbull, without wanting to gild the lily, looked like a thrillingly modern no.10 with elements of Paul McStay and Tommy Burns thrown in as he crafted openings and buried the decisive one.
View on emerging duo
“He was excellent,” said McGregor of the £3.5million summer signing from Motherwell. “He played intelligently in the pockets of space. He was quite a focal point for us. There was a nice wee channel in there where he could find space and get on the ball. I thought the boys found him well on the half turn. When he got it he looked a real threat. Right throughout, he picked the right pass. He knew when to dribble and when to pass. Then obviously he got his goal. It was a great finish as well. He is a great lad, he has done really well since he came in and has trained very well. He has trained hard. He was just waiting for that opportunity – and he grabbed it with both hands on Thursday night. I am delighted for him.
“The challenge for him now [is to become a key player for us] as he absolutely can. He wants to learn and is learning from the players each day. His attitude is spot on. There is no reason why he can’t get a bit of confidence from the goal and the performance and really kick on. The hope is we can keep pushing him, keep getting him in the team and he can keep delivering. That is exactly what we need at this point.”
The story is similar for McGregor with Soro, even as he recognises that his emergence could have consequences for Brown, who for so long has been the midfield barrier role the Ivorian performed so effectively. “He's a real talent,” said the club’s vice-captain. “You saw the amount of times he won the ball back, he's incredible. That is his game. He wins the ball and plays simple. He looks a top player. He's been unlucky but you need to keep working every day and his time will come. It is to be hoped he starts to get a run because we need boys to come in and really keep pushing the standard. Competition for places really drives the standard. It helps everyone raise their game. We need as many people as we can on the pitch and playing well. It is better for Celtic. He is a great lad and I was delighted for him.”
The excitement over the potential of Turnbull and Soro is at least one shared passion among all those of a Celtic persuasion.
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers. If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.