Celtic’s Callum McGregor would welcome Billy Gilmour to Scotland midfield

Chelsea’s teenage prodigy would grace senior squad
Billy Gilmour in action for Scotland under-21s. Picture: Ross MacDonald/SNSBilly Gilmour in action for Scotland under-21s. Picture: Ross MacDonald/SNS
Billy Gilmour in action for Scotland under-21s. Picture: Ross MacDonald/SNS

We may never know if Steve Clarke would have drafted Billy Gilmour into his Scotland squad for the aborted Euro 2020 play-off semi-final in March.

But whenever the Hampden showdown with Israel can eventually take place, Chelsea’s teenage prodigy would be a welcome addition to the national team as far as Callum McGregor is concerned.

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Celtic midfielder McGregor has established himself as one of Scotland’s most influential figures, commanding a place in the starting line-up for his country’s last 14 competitive fixtures.

The 26-year-old feels the midfield area is the strongest department of the squad with his club-mates, Ryan Christie and James Forrest, vying for places along with Aston Villa’s John McGinn, Ryan Jack of Rangers and Southampton’s Stuart Armstrong.

But McGregor believes there is room to accommodate 18-year-old Gilmour whose displays at the heart of Chelsea’s midfield were a revelation before football was suspended by Covid-19.

“Billy has been outstanding since coming on the scene,” said McGregor. “I watched the Chelsea games he played and he looks a really good, technical footballer.

“He likes to pass and receive the ball. He always plays forward and shows really good game intelligence for someone so young.

“It’s great for Scotland to be producing players who can go and play in the Premier League at 18. It can only benefit the squad and the country in the future.

“As a squad, you always welcome good players. I always say that at Celtic, too – the more competition the better. It brings the best out of everyone. The standard in training and games goes up.

“Billy is another midfielder to add to the Scotland mix and we do have a lot of strength in that area. The manager has options he can use in different scenarios. He has played Ryan Christie off the side at times to get him in the game and the more quality players, the better it is.

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“We have a massive amount of talent in the midfield area and it’s all about finding that right balance. There will be different combinations for certain challenges and that is a bonus for the manager.”

Uefa’s most recently mooted date for the Euro 2020 play-offs is October, although that remains uncertain as football struggles to find a safe and practical way to resume matches.

“We were all building up to the March games, the semi-final with Israel and then, hopefully, the play-off final away to Norway or Serbia,” added McGregor.

“You could start to feel things building. In your own mind, you knew it was around the corner. They are two massive games for the country and like the club games, we are gutted they were called off. But they have now just been pushed further back in the calendarand, hopefull, we will be ready for them. We are all desperate to play Israel and then hopefully win the final to get to that major tournament. It was frustrating but at least the Euro finals have been pushed back to next year.

“We are close and we would have been gutted if the tournament had been totally scrapped. We still have that chance to reach the finals. We just need to refocus our minds and put that to one side for now.

“We will be ready for Israel whenever the time comes because we have already done a lot of work behind the scenes.

“The manager had been preparing for the tie and was trying to get us little clips so we could frame it in our minds.

“The good thing is we haven’t lost the opportunity to get to the finals. It would have been so frustrating if the tournament couldn’t be put back a year. By the time the game does come around, I know we will be prepared and ready for it.”

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McGregor’s own form was as good as ever when football was forced to shut down, having scored 13 goals in 50 appearances for Celtic this season as he maintained his remarkable levels of consistency and durability at the heart of Neil Lennon’s side.

“My own goal return probably shows just how well the manager’s system tweak during the winter break worked for us,” McGregor reflected.

“He lets players go and play with freedom. We counter attack with real pace, power and threat. He wants us to attack in fives and sixes.

“You look back at the gaffer’s first spell at Celtic and his teams always scored a lot of goals. That’s the way he wants us to play. It’s a bit different to Brendan Rodgers’ style. We still scored a lot of goals but it was more controlled.

“But it just shows that with two different systems, you can still carry a huge attacking threat. We were on fire in that second half of the season and the gaffer deserves a lot of praise for that.

“Everyone has been raving about the team’s performances but you also need to look at the gaffer. So much time, effort and thought has gone into getting us into that frame of mind to be winners.

“As I say, the gaffer tweaked the system in January and you saw the results of that move. He wanted to free players up to attack, he wanted more goals and attacking football.

“He felt we’d lost a bit of our zest in the final third and wanted that back.

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“The gaffer wanted more energy when we lost the ball and we worked on all of that in Dubai in January.

“He deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the job he has done since coming back. Think back to February last year and the pressure he was under to finish off the treble treble.

“Then after he achieved that, people said ‘Okay… can you go again?’ The gaffer has answered that ten-fold.

“Even in the first half of the season, we won the Betfred Cup and topped our Europa League group. Then we lost one game (to Rangers) in December and the whole thing turned on us.

“But after Dubai, we came back even stronger and that shows the work being put in behind the scenes. It shows how much of a top manager he is and his desire to win has rubbed off on the team.”

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