Scott Brown is an obvious candidate while, if it was rated purely on profit return, Moussa Demeble would be a hands-down winner.
But in terms of importance to the cause and week in, week out excellence, Callum McGregor takes some beating when assessing the most valuable player of the Brendan Rodgers era to date.
McGregor missed the first match of the manager’s reign, a 1-0 defeat by Lincoln Red Imps – funny that. He returned for the second leg, a 3-0 win, and has played a total of 123 times under Rodgers, scoring 23 goals. But the cold, dry statistics are not even the half of it. He was not on the scoresheet in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Hibernian though he did get one assist, helping Odsonne Edouard score his side’s last goal in what was an enjoyable contest.
It’s what he did often off the ball, his movement and intelligence, that was so often to the fore against Neil Lennon’s side. His contribution became ever more marked, and appreciated by his manager, following Brown’s departure with a leg injury after only 21 minutes.
McGregor played in three different positions, drawing high praise from Rodgers afterwards. “Absolutely tactically brilliant,” said the manager.
McGregor slipped back into Brown’s role for a spell. The seamless switch seemed particularly significant given the speculation last week linking the Celtic skipper with a move to Australian club Western Melbourne, who reportedly want him to be their marquee signing. If the prospect of Life After Broony is enough to strike fear into the hearts of most Celtic fans then Saturday served to provide comfort as well as exhilaration, as the champions re-engaged with an old, ominous swagger.
Celtic were already 2-0 up thanks to goals from Tom Rogic and Olivier Ntcham when Brown departed after struggling to shake off a knock sustained very early in the proceedings. He is now a doubt for Thursday’s trip to face RB Leipzig as well as Sunday’s much-anticipated Betfred Cup semi-final against Hearts at BT Murrayfield.
But McGregor stresses he is happy to drop back to cover for Brown’s absence if required and there could come a time, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, when he will be required to do so on a permanent basis.
“Nobody really wants to think about life after Broony, but the more I can learn off his game and implement into my game the better,” he said. “I am trying to do that all the time.”
The potential New Broony could not be much different to the Original Broony in terms of personality. Determinedly uncontroversial, McGregor would be an ideal candidate to become the face of Celtic.
True to character, he is not too concerned where he plays. “It’s about what’s best for the team,” he said.
Given the choice, however, his preference would be to play the so-called ‘No 8’ position, which, although it’s Brown’s shirt number, is not necessarily the role the skipper performs as a more deep lying midfielder these days. It was, though, where Brown played when he first caught Celtic’s eye at Hibs.
Still just 25, and in the prime of his career, it would not be advisable to inhibit McGregor because, as he proved on Saturday, he can still impose himself all over the pitch. “Playing as a ‘No 8’, you get to do both [attack and defend],” he explained.
“You get to come short and be in the build up and you can make the box and get your goals as well that way. Playing in there with Oli [Ntcham] and Tom [Rogic] you get to combine and get forward as well.”
But, when circumstances dictate, as they could this Thursday night and then on Sunday afternoon, he’s happy to do whatever’s required for the greater good. It is fortunate he’s such a diligent pupil, keen, as he puts it, to “talk tactics with the gaffer” while also studying games in his time off from being Mr Versatile for Celtic.
He watched last week’s France v Germany Nations League tie as much to analyse the tactical battle as anything else, perhaps paying particular attention to how N’Golo Kante, now one of the best No 8s in the world, if not the best, plays the position. But if needed to play a little deeper, as Brown does, he will do that too. After all, he has the benefit of being schooled by one of the best around – Brown himself.
“When you drop in there it is obviously a different role,” he said. “It requires different discipline in terms of trying to play the role. But with Broony playing in there every week you can’t learn off a better player.
“I am always trying to learn in case I am asked to drop in there and do a job for the team,” he added. “I enjoy it in there.
“You get loads of touches on the ball and start the play. But you have got to be more disciplined. I just try and learn as much as I can playing beside Broony and take that into my game as well so if I am asked to play in there then I can do a decent enough job.”