Why Callum McGregor is really so key to Celtic - reasons laid bare for importance

The old saying of ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ can certainly be applied to Callum McGregor.

Callum McGregor is leading Celtic from the front.

That’s the view of Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou, anyway, when he sums up just how important the central midfielder is to his team.

Appointed club captain this summer after long-serving skipper Scott Brown joined Aberdeen, McGregor has been trying to drive Celtic’s regeneration on the pitch, being Postecoglou’s general and helping the transition between old and new.

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The 28-year-old, however, missed a tranche of games in September, which coincided with a 4-3 Europa League reversal at Betis and dropped points in the cinch Premiership, a 1-0 defeat at Livingston and a 0-0 home draw with Dundee United. His hamstring injury was managed carefully and he is now back in the team, driving them on to wins – the latest being a 2-0 triumph over Ferencvaros to breathe new life into Celtic’s European campaign. Postecoglou is left in no doubt how key McGregor is.

“I said through that period that we needed to show resilience, but there’s no doubt we missed Cal,” said the Australian coach. “Any team would miss their leader, their skipper, and he’s such a fantastic player apart from that. He dictates the tempo out there, he drives the boys with his actions and his words.

"He’s an outstanding leader and I know he will become an even better leader as he grows into the role. He’s definitely an important part of it, like any leader would be in any team. No-one’s irreplaceable, but when you lose influential players like we did during the last period, it’s going to take a toll on a brand-new team. It wasn’t like we had ready-made leaders to step up.”

Postecoglou never questioned McGregor’s credentials to take the armband. “Leaders come in different forms,” he said. “ He’s probably not the typical, but the biggest thing you look for in leaders is ‘do people want to follow him?’ Do his actions match his words, does his behaviour match his demands for standards? And he does that. He lives and breathes football, he lives and breathes this football club.

"He took the penalty [against Ferencvaros]. That’s his job. He missed it but then he was back up looking for the ball again. That’s leadership for me. His words are very strong to the team before a game and at half-time. He’s dead set on making this club successful again.

While the Scotland internationalist’s qualities as a captain have impressed his manager, his ability has done so too. “He’s up there … with the ones I’ve worked with anyway,” Postecoglou added about how good a player he is. “Because what you look for are players in the tightest of areas – and he plays in that area – who always want the ball, are always looking, always trying to dictate the game.

"The way we want to play, that’s really important in the middle. He rarely gives the ball away. Nine times out of ten he makes the best decision in terms of the pass. There are plenty of passes you can make, options you can take, but invariably he always makes the right pass. And he works his socks off. So he is a good player, a fantastic player, but again, he is one that I think can improve.”