Callum McGregor on captaining Celtic in final and potential Scott Brown-Ismaila Soro "masterstroke"
It says everything about the mindset of Callum McGregor that the Celtic midfielder hasn’t allowed himself to consider what could ensue if the Scottish Cup final follows the same pattern of the club’s last two games.
For these back-to-back victories the 27-year-old was the man with the armband. If he was again at Hampden, and all went to plan against Hearts, he would be the man to hold up the silverware courtesy of a barely-believable fourth consecutive treble being sealed.
“It is obviously a huge honour whenever you have the captain’s armband on. It is something that I love doing. It is a real big honour,” he said. “[But] I haven’t thought about it in that sense. I’m desperate for Celtic to win the game on Sunday and everybody at the club to be successful. If that is with me as captain or not as captain, it doesn’t enter my thinking too much. I am just desperate to win the game and get more success for Celtic fans.”
The “everybody” for McGregor has Scott Brown front and centre. And perhaps that is the reason he isn’t ruminating on what skippering duties in the decider could mean for him. McGregor seems to expect those responsibilities to be assumed by the outrageously-successful old warhorse so many seem in a rush to put out to grass.
The Scotland midfielder is not only in no doubt that Brown would warrant a place in Celtic’s starting line-up for the final. There is an almighty clamour for Ismaila Soro to continue in the holding midfield role after he was preferred to the veteran for the wins over Lille and Kilmarnock that lifted the club out of a slump. Yet McGregor considers it could be the smartest of management moves from Neil Lennon to turn to Brown when he is fresh and has a point to prove. A combination that has so often been the precursor for him to provide the perfect riposte to those willing to write his Celtic obituary.
“It could be a master stroke,” said his midfield partner. “The thing about Broony is that he is 35. He might still play like he’s 26 as he’s full of energy. But you do have to remember his age as well. It’s a big ask to play two or three games a week at real high intensity – the way we like to play – high tempo, high pressing. So you might have to manage him a little bit differently to previous seasons.But by no means is he starting to slow down. It’s just a case of the manager picking and choosing the right times to unleash him.
‘You write him off at your peril. He has that mentality. You don’t play at this club for 13 years, have such a good career and be a winner so many times if you don’t have that mentality. It’s not possible. The amount of times he’s come back to prove people wrong speaks for itself. Every time someone does say something about him, he comes back and plays even better. That’s probably the situation we’re looking at. Having this amount of good players playing well is a good thing for Celtic. As long as that continues then we’ll have success at this club.”
McGregor is convinced that Brown can be part of that success in both the immediate present and the future. Far beyond the club’s eighth domestic final in four years, which many consider could put wind in the club’s sails for the, thus far, becalmed pursuit of the obsessed-over 10-in-a-row that finds them trailing Rangers by 13 points.
“Broonie is a living legend at the club,” McGregor said. “To have such a successful career at a huge club like this tells you just how good a player he is, how good a captain he is, his mentality to go every day and set the standard for the group. He is really second to none in that sense. When he plays in the team he has this aura about him. He carries the team, he carries the responsibility. When he is on the pitch he has this aura. He has obviously perfected that over a number of years. He is a huge player for us and will continue to be a huge player for us. I have loved playing in beside him. I have learnt so much off him and continue to do so every single day in training. He s somebody I have got huge, huge respect for.
“It is dead easy when you are on the outside looking in. You can see he didn’t play for two games and Celtic won two games and say it’s his fault. There was actually a lot different in performance levels and the team in general. I think it is a wee bit disrespectful when people are saying things like that when you look at what he has actually done at this club. He has had a hugely successful career and a few weeks ago in the semi-final he was arguably the best player on the pitch. He is very much still in form. He has been out for two games to freshen the team up, Soro has come in and done great, he looks to have huge potential. I am sure he will go on to fulfil that if he keeps working hard and keeps his feet on the ground and does all the right things. The amount of good players we have got playing well is obviously a bonus for Celtic. It’s a call for the manager. I am sure that whoever plays on Sunday will be 100% ready to go.”
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