There is one player in the hugely vaunted and adored Celtic squad who continues to fly under the radar, Calum McGregor. While Kieran Tierney regularly plays with his song, a candidate for the best song ever created by the Celtic fans, echoing round Parkhead, McGregor studiously goes about his business with little or no melody infiltrating his ears.
While Paddy Roberts is fawned over and praised effervescently, McGregor is like the kid on Valentine’s day, slumped at his desk without a card addressed to him. While Moussa Dembele is linked to some of the biggest clubs on the planet, in deals that would shatter records, McGregor is considered lucky to be at the elevated station he currently finds himself.
So why does McGregor fail to garner the respect and adulation his talents should demand?
For that, there are a couple of explanations.
The first, and most impactful, is his inability to nail down a consistent position within Rodgers starting eleven. This, I hasten to add, is no fault of McGregor’s, it is his technical and tactical dexterity that has allowed him to plug so many gaps. In this calendar year alone we have seen Callum play at left-back, left-wingback, holding midfield, either flank in a front three and in the hole. While this is invaluable to Brendan Rodgers, such rapid changes in his deployment ensures that McGregor is never given a steady run where he can showcase his best array of talents and sear his image into the minds of Celtic fans.
This, sadly, has always been the case. Look at some of the best teams this century, and you will find a jack-of-all-trades character operating at the heart of things. A key component, but one that is consistently overlooked.
Arsenal’s run to the 2006 Champions League final was only accomplished thanks to Mathieu Flamini’s versatility, switching seamlessly from central midfield to left-back following Ashley Cole’s injury. Manchester United’s infamous “Class of 92” utilised the now cartoonish Phil Neville in a variety of roles, playing in every position across midfield and defence. Even a coach as altruistic as Pep Guardiola used Seydou Keita in a similar fashion, particularly away from home in the Champions League.
Camaronesi, Zanetti, Kimmich, Keita, Essien, the sport is littered with players who go undervalued due to their adaptability, and inability to crystallise, in the minds of fans, what exactly they bring to the fray.
The other decisive factor that limits McGregor’s appeal is his style. Comparing him to fan favourite Tom Rogic might explain this point better. The Australian resembles an Olympic-standard equestrian horse, all grace and quiet power. His unerring ability to drive the team forward, shrugging off opposition challenges, before delivering precise, deft moments of skill, regularly leaves fans enthralled. McGregor, by contrast, is much less easy on the eye. Like a particularly enthusiastic wasp, he buzzes around the park, irritating everyone whose shirt isn’t green. While clearly effective, such erratic bursts of energy regularly enrapture the masses.
Even when both he and the team are operating at maximum capacity, The midfielder tends to look unrefined. This though is improving at an exponential rate. His weaker right foot is becoming more reliable; his decision making is less erratic and most impressive is the composure his game now exudes. He may be careening around at 100-miles-per-hour, but he still has the intelligence to process every aspect of the game around him. Nowhere was this more evident than in last year’s 2-0 Scottish Cup semi-final win against Rangers. The manner in which he calmly stepped up to Moussa Dembele’s lay-off and caressed the ball beyond the hapless Wes Foderingham spoke volumes of his improvement as a player.
Not too many chants with McGregor at their heart will be heard around Celtic Park, there will never be a shortage of replica children’s tops sporting his name and number, and there will probably not be a mass outpouring of emotion should he be linked with a move away. However, when Brendan Rodgers assesses his squad there will be few players he deems more important than the little “Mr Fix It”.