Rehabilitated Callum McGregor handed Celtic captain’s armband | Louise Taylor

Five years after Callum McGregor feared his Celtic career could be over following a drink‑driving conviction he has been handed the captain’s armband by the club’s new manager, Ange Postecoglou.

By his own admission the Scotland midfielder is a much changed man since that watershed night in 2016. He seems a wholly appropriate appointment as Celtic begin their own period of transition with a potentially tricky Champions League first-leg tie at home against Denmark’s Midtjylland on Tuesday night.

“I don’t think it’s any big secret that we’re in a bit of a transition,” said McGregor, who assumes the role vacated when Scott Brown departed for Aberdeen after 11 years as Celtic captain. “There’s a new chief executive, a new manager and some players have left. It’s going to be a big challenge and, like any transition, it’s never going to be always plain sailing.

“There’ll be some bumps in the road and it’s pretty obvious we need a few players but as long as we’ve got good people with good ideas, good direction and good discipline, we’ll get there. The guys here have to step up and take responsibility.”

While Postecoglou – a 55‑year‑old, Greek-born Australian – joined from Japan’s 2019 J League champions, Yokohama, Dominic McKay has made the switch from helming Scottish rugby to replace the long-serving Peter Lawwell as chief executive.

“Callum’s perfect for the captaincy role,” said Postecoglou, a former Australia national team manager. “He understands this football club – its values and traditions. I think he’s a natural leader. He’s the kind of guy people gravitate towards. He drives things. It was an easy decision, the right decision and the best decision. People want to follow a genuine person and Callum is genuine.”

Like Postecoglou – appointed following the breakdown of lengthy negotiations between Celtic and the former Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe last month – McGregor spoke very well during a media conference call on Monday.

Celtic’s manager, Ange Postecoglou, shakes hands with Callum McGregor during the pre-season friendly with Preston at Celtic Park.
Celtic’s manager, Ange Postecoglou, shakes hands with Callum McGregor during the pre-season friendly with Preston at Celtic Park. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

As the former attempts to implement his own playing style, he could have done without an off‑pitch furore surrounding the Scotland striker Leigh Griffiths, who was sent home early from Celtic’s Welsh training camp after allegations he had sent two schoolgirls inappropriate messages via social media. Griffiths has now been cleared by police but, despite returning to the squad for the first leg on Tuesday night, is wanted by the League One club Sunderland. A loan could yet materialise.

As the police conducted their inquiries, Postecoglou compartmentalised the incident. “I didn’t want any distractions from what we were doing in camp,” he said. “And while Leigh wasn’t with us I didn’t give it a second thought.

“It was absolutely a serious thing and that’s why I let the authorities deal with it. As I said to Leigh, the standards I expect are pretty clear. If people fall short of them, it doesn’t matter who they are, they’ll be dealt with. But once it’s been dealt with, we move on.”

Asked if he thought Griffiths needed to “screw his head on properly”, the Celtic manager’s reply appeared telling. “I think you should probably put that question to Leigh,” he said. “But I’ve given him an opportunity to contribute to our season. The rest is up to him.”

McGregor echoed similar sentiments. “I had a quick chat with Leigh,” he said. “It’s about him coming in, putting his head down, taking all the other distractions out of his life and focusing purely on his football.

“It’s time for Leigh to really knuckle down and get back to his football being the sole focus. He’s paid to give everything to this club. At this moment of transition we need everyone pushing in the right direction.”

After a friendly draw at Bristol City and a home defeat against Preston, Postecoglou is hoping for an improvement against the Danish champions.

“It’ll be a good challenge for us, Midtjylland are a good football club with a mature identity,” he said. “They have a clear model. They develop young players and play a certain way. They had a great run in the Champions League last season but we’ll be ready.

“The rewards are so big – and our supporters deserve to see their team playing great football and endeavouring to be successful every time they play. We can’t go looking for excuses.”

Perhaps but, given the current context, it would be understandable were Postecoglou to have reached for a few, particularly after recent injuries to Karamoko Dembélé and Mikey Johnston seem set to sideline that influential pair until the autumn.

“They’ve both had fairly significant injuries and will be out for some time,” he said. “It’s disappointing. I was looking forward to working with them as they’re both exciting wingers, the kind of players I love. It’s a blow – and they have some fairly significant rehabilitation ahead of them.”

Much the same could be said of Celtic as a club.


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