Callum McGregor offers to fill in as a striker for Celtic

When Callum McGregor sat down to negotiate the new contract he has just signed with Celtic, it's fair to say he was in a strong bargaining position.

Callum McGregor has offered to play up front. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS
Callum McGregor has offered to play up front. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS

Whatever rise in pay the Scottish champions agreed with the midfielder, there can be no doubt they are getting their money’s worth from a player who has come as close as possible to being regarded as indispensable by manager Brendan Rodgers this season.

McGregor has been as indefatigable as he been influential for both club and country since the campaign kicked off back in July.

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The 25-year-old has made 41 consecutive appearances – 35 for Celtic and six for Scotland – and is the only ever present in the Premiership leaders’ first team squad.

McGregor admits he is looking forward to Celtic’s 
sunshine trip to Dubai next month during the winter break. But he feels no ill effects from a relentless schedule which still has three league games to run against Dundee, Aberdeen and Rangers before he can take a well-earned breather.

“I’ll definitely enjoy myself in Dubai,” he says with a grin. “Yeah, it’s a lot of games and there have been periods this season when I’ve maybe needed to play at times because of injuries elsewhere in the squad, meaning you can’t come out for a rest when you might have done.

“But as a player, you want to play as many games as you can. Playing 41 games by this stage of the season shows you are a big part of the team. That’s what you want to be as a footballer, helping the team as much as you can.

“I have never asked to come out of the team and I’ve felt OK the whole time. I feel as fit as I have ever been. It’s been great. I have enjoyed it. When you playing well, you don’t want to come out – you just want to keep going. We have three big games to go and then we get a wee break in January.”

Having gone back to the top of the Premiership table with Wednesday night’s 3-0 home win over Motherwell, McGregor believes Celtic are ready to impose their authority on what has been a closely contested title race so far.

“After Dundee at home on Saturday, we have two big away games at Pittodrie and Ibrox and if we come through them then we are in a good position come the new year for the rest of the season,” he added.

“We would have the winter break to recharge and go again. It has been a strength of our squad to respond when there have been tough times over the past couple of years. The boys have stuck together and come through the other end. We know how big a period this is for the club and we want to get positive results to take us into the new year.

“The league looks tight in terms of one team being top and then another recently. It’s about us just trying to stay mentally strong. If we show that mental fitness over the next three games we could be in a really good place come January. It’s important that we put our foot to the floor in the next ten days and get through them.”

Celtic’s biggest short-term problem will be coping with the anticipated absence of French striker Odsonne Edouard as they await results of a scan on the abductor muscle injury he suffered against Motherwell.

With Leigh Griffiths already unavailable as he addresses personal issues, it leaves manager Rodgers without a recognised striker. The versatile McGregor would happily volunteer for a shift up front but doesn’t think it will be necessary.

“I think we’re OK,” he said. “Odsonne obviously went off on Wednesday and it looks like it could be a struggle for him. But we are getting boys back. Ryan Christie and Tom Rogic could be back on Saturday.

“I’ll put my hat in the ring to play up front and see what the manager does – I’d just go up there and run about! Seriously, although we are a bit light on strikers, I am sure we will come up with something that is good enough to get us through.”

McGregor admits the timing of his new contract offer, which runs until 2023, was unexpected after he signed his previous deal just over a year ago. But there was no hesitation on his part in accepting it as he looks to emulate the longevity of club captain Scott Brown, pictured inset, who made his 500th appearance for Celtic in midweek.

“I only signed my last contract in September last year, so it’s been quick to get a new one,” he said. “It’s a bit of surprise. I’ve just been concentrating on playing football and trying to do my best for the team.

“The gaffer gave me the shout and said they wanted to give me a new contract. For me, it’s perfect. I don’t want to play anywhere else. Celtic is a massive club, one of the biggest in the world, so to get to play your football here is something incredible and something I’m really proud of. So when the opportunity came up, I jumped at the chance to sign again.

“You see Broony getting to 500 games and you don’t do that for a club like this unless you have the right mentality, hunger and talent. He has shown all of that and it’s something for me to aspire to. It’s certainly something I am looking at.

“I’ve been here since I was a kid, from nine years old, so it’s pretty much all I’ve known in terms of football.

“The last few years have been very successful and we want to keep doing that. We want to be a part of something that could be amazing.

“I’m enjoying my football, I’m playing well. The manager has come in and really tested me to take my game to the next level. I’ve done that. Now the contract is put to bed, it’s about trying to improve again and get even better.”