His name is on a lengthy list of absentees from Scotland’s end-of-season trip to Peru and Mexico but Callum McGregor will be a major presence in the bid to reach the Euro 2020 finals, according to James McFadden.
Celtic midfielder McGregor illustrated his big-game mentality once again on Saturday with the opening goal in the Scottish Cup final victory over Motherwell which clinched his club’s historic double treble.
Scotland assistant coach McFadden is a fully paid-up member of McGregor’s ever-expanding appreciation society and remains surprised the 24-year-old had to wait so long to be called into the senior international set-up.
McGregor was belatedly included in Gordon Strachan’s squad at the end of the failed 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign but was an unused substitute in the final two games against Slovenia and Slovakia as the Scots missed out on the play-offs.
He finally made his Scotland debut in the friendly against Holland last November, before impressing when he earned his second cap under new manager Alex McLeish in the 1-0 win in Hungary two months ago.
“I thought Callum should have been in the squad sooner because he started the season very well,” said McFadden.
“I can understand Gordon’s reasons as well – he was coming towards the end of a campaign and he went with guys who he knew and had started the campaign and done well for him previously.
“Sometimes that happens. But other times you just pick the guys who are in the best form. It is a difficult one. Callum will certainly be part of this squad going forward.
“His goal on Saturday was unbelievable. He wins the ball in front of Motherwell’s two best ball winners. It wasn’t because they weren’t switched on, it was just because Callum was quicker, sharper. He takes a touch and smacks an unstoppable shot into the net. It was a fantastic goal. That is the level he is at now.
“He is a mainstay of that Celtic side. It is great for us. He is not a young boy. He has had to fight to get where he is. Even the way he plays is good – he has always got a big smile on his face, he is a lovely guy and he deserves everything he has got. Going forward, looking towards the Nations League and beyond, it is great for us as a country.
“He picks up good areas, he always receives the ball in the right way, he is always on the half turn, he tries to go forward. He just brings a lot to the Celtic team. It is brilliant to see a Scottish guy having such an influence at Celtic. I know we have got many Scots in that team, but it is great to see it.
“Going back to last year when I was coaching at Motherwell and we were playing Celtic, Brendan brought off Emilio Izaguirre and put Callum to left-back. That showed you that he can play anywhere. He’s so trusted. That was roughly 18 months ago and he was trusted back then.
“I just think he’s kind of exploded now into a Celtic team that are blowing everybody away. He’s worked hard for it. He’s not going to waste it. He was never going to be a rabbit caught in the headlights.
“He’s 24 now, so he’s not a young, young boy. He’s experienced a lot in his career through his loan spell at Notts County and all he’s been through at Celtic. He was about 21 when he went out on loan. People might have thought that maybe it was time for him to leave Celtic as it didn’t look like he was going to make the breakthrough.
“He’s always happy and bubbly. He’s an optimist. The way he plays and his outlook is great. He’s just ready to take his chance whatever it is, against whoever it is, for whoever it is.”
Another Celtic player McFadden is eager to see back to full fitness and form in time for Scotland’s return to competitive action against Albania in September is striker Leigh Griffiths, who also misses out on the Peru and Mexico friendlies as he will undergo minor surgery on a long-standing calf problem today.
“Leigh will be massive for us next season, he’s a brilliant player,” said McFadden. “He’s not had the season that he would have liked and certainly from our point of view we’d have liked him to play more games. But if he can come back fit, have a good pre-season, then he’s a massive asset. He’s a guy that can score goals out of nothing, he leads the line very well and he’s a massive threat, not just from open play but from set-pieces as well.
“We have a dearth of talent in the striking area. So he’s someone we’ll want to get back fit, as fit as he can be and we want to use him as much as we can.”
l James McFadden was speaking at the Tesco Bank Football Challenge National Festival where 300 children from across Scotland got the chance to play football at Hampden.