Callum McGregor's versatility could be key to Scotland's fortunes
Callum McGregor is a jack of all trades and, it appears, master of them all.
And his versatility could come in very handy for Scotland manager Alex McLeish as he surveys those left standing from his injury-depleted squad.
The Celtic star played three different positions the other week as he helped orchestrate a 4-2 win over Hibs but, he has revealed, his talents extend much further than that.
Sure to be a key figure in McLeish’s team which faces Albania in Shkoder tomorrow in a crunch UEFA Nations League match, McGregor insists he’ll be more than ready to fulfil any task placed on his shoulders.
“I’ve played everywhere,” disclosed the 25-year-old. “When I was younger I had a season at centre-back, then one at left-back, then I was back in midfield. Off the front, I’ve played every position.”
However, while McGregor has been a mainstay at Celtic throughout their two treble winning seasons, he only earned the first of his seven caps a year ago, playing in a friendly against the Netherlands having been on the bench for the World Cup qualifiers with Slovakia and Slovenia a month earlier.
And waiting for the call had, he admitted, been a source of huge frustration.
“You have ups and downs in football and, obviously, just over a year ago, that was the case. I was disappointed. I was desperate to play.
“I was doing well at club level and scoring goals. Sometimes football has a funny way of working in that you can chuck a player in there and he can do something.
“You know when you are doing well and there was a bit of talk about it at the time, but managers have players they trust and the team were doing well at that point. They were right up towards qualifying.
“You don’t have an argument when that’s the case, it was just a matter of me biding my time.”
However, as frustrated as he might have been back then, McGregor is candid enough to admit the time might not have been right for him to take his bow on the international stage.
“I had just sort of burst on to the Celtic scene at that time, scoring goals and playing well in big games so to go straight into the internationals might have been a jump too much.
“You just never know in football. I was getting to that stage and really building on my Celtic career then. Now I feel established so I try to kick on and be part of the Scotland stuff.”
McGregor revealed he is concentrated on bringing a consistency to his game but agreed that being adaptable also helped. “It helps that you can play in different positions.
“When boys are injured, you can slot into different positions. It helps that I can do that and the fact the manager trusts me in those positions gives me opportunities.
“The top, top players are playing 65 or 70 games a season. If you want to be considered as a top player, that’s what you have to do. Football moves so quickly and you have those ups and downs so you have to keep yourself on a level playing field and make sure you do not get too up or down when things are going well or against you.
“You try to stay at a consistent level and get where you want to be. That’s what I’ve done since my debut and kept trying to push myself to be better.”
To that end McGregor is an avid spectator, watching as much football as he can, particularly big Champions League games, as he attempts to broaden his knowledge and understanding of the game.
He said: “I watch players in different positions and see how good they are. I’ve always had a tactical idea in terms of watching football and trying to understand it. With the amount of games I’ve played and the number of positions, you start to realise what it takes to play in each position.
“For example, the controlling position.
“It’s not all about going forward and scoring goals. You are looking behind you and seeing what you have to pick up as opposed to going forward. Different positions require different attributes and I’m always watching games to see what else I can do, how else I can help.”
As he has said, McGregor may have had his ups and downs, but he is someone who plays with a smile – he simply enjoys playing.
“Sometimes it gets almost too serious at times and people get down about it. But I’ve played football all my life, it’s all I wanted to do.
“I never had any other job on my mind.
“From when I was four I wanted to play football for that genuine enjoyment of football, and to have a career in the game at the highest level means you sometimes don’t know how lucky you are.
“You are living the dream. To not have a smile on your face doing that would be incredible.”