Callum McGregor believes he has finally found his voice as a Celtic first-team player as he looks to make the most of his second chance to hold down a regular place in Ronny Deila’s starting eleven.
The attacking midfielder made a dramatic impact when he made his breakthrough under Deila at the start of last season, scoring four goals in his first seven appearances and even earning senior Scotland squad call-up from Gordon Strachan.
All the learning is coming to the fore and I do feel as though I am a bigger part of the dressing room now... I feel I can be a big part of things here and, hopefully, I can convince the manager of thatCallum McGregor
But McGregor dropped off the radar at Celtic Park in the second half of the campaign, spending a period on the fringes of Deila’s squad which he now feels may turn out to be the making of him.
The 22-year-old returned to prominence when he scored against Ajax on his return to the starting line-up two months ago and has retained his place since.
McGregor admits he was something of a shrinking violet when he initially made it into the first team but is now more than willing to make his presence felt.
“I feel a lot more comfortable on and off the pitch,” he said. “All the learning is coming to the fore and I do feel as though I am a bigger part of the dressing room now.
“If I feel as if something is happening on the pitch, I can voice my opinion better than I could maybe 12 months ago. It can be intimidating sometimes for young players to do that, especially when you are a young boy just coming through. I know James Forrest felt the same but we have grown up a bit and we realise that we are men now and we can voice our opinion.
“The older boys appreciate it if you have something to say and they see that you know what you are talking about rather than just being a young kid coming in and trying to kick a ball about. The older boys respect it and feel that it is better for you as well if you feel that you can say things.
“I had that spell when I first came into the team and it was a big learning curve for me as well. I ended up being out the team, but, once I have come back in, I feel a lot more confident, especially around the boys. I do feel that I can be a big part of things here and, hopefully, I can convince the manager of that.
“Getting into the Scotland squad at the start of last season was great, then it did take a dip. But I am just a young player, I have to learn from it, take something from every experience. I was grateful for the Scotland stuff and, hopefully, I can get that in the future again. At the moment I just need to stay in the Celtic team for as long as I can.
“Everyone assured me that when you first come in you take a dip and then you come back again and that was the thing that was keeping me going. I just kept working hard and hoping that it would change. Football can be funny in that things can change so quickly and, within a week, you can be back in the team and scoring goals and you almost forget that spell that you had out.
“I don’t think it was a case of me getting too much, too soon. The more you get as a young player, the more you learn so I was grateful for that. It is just about taking it as a learning experience.
“I think I’m a different player now. Especially maturity wise and dealing with stuff on and off the pitch. It has helped me, coming in, scoring goals, getting into the Scotland team and then falling out of the team. It has all added pretty well and I have come through the other side well.”
McGregor hopes to help Celtic make the ideal start to 2016 with a victory over Partick Thistle at Parkhead this afternoon which would take them three points clear at the top of the Premiership.
Remarkably, Celtic have not won a home game since defeating Aberdeen on Halloween, suffering three defeats to Molde, Ajax and Motherwell and a goalless draw against Kilmarnock since then.
“I wasn’t really aware of that statistic but we are looking to beat Thistle and then go on a really good run of results,” added McGregor.
“The home games can be difficult, with teams coming to sit in and defend for long periods. Aberdeen are also finding that out now when they are at home. It’s up to us to play our way through that.”