Five years after Callum McGregor feared his Celtic career might end following a drinking and driving conviction, he was handed the captain’s armband by the club’s new manager, Ange Postecoglou.
By his own admission, the Scottish midfielder is a man who has changed a lot since that decisive night in 2016. He seems like a very fitting appointment as Celtic enter their own transition period with a potentially tricky first leg of the Champions League at home against the Danes of Midtjylland on Tuesday. night.
“I don’t think it’s a big secret that we’re in a period of transition,” said McGregor, who took on the vacant role when Scott Brown left for Aberdeen after 11 years as Celtic captain. “There is a new general manager, a new manager and some players have left. It will be a big challenge and, like any transition, it will never always be easy.
“There will be some bumps in the road and it’s pretty obvious that we need a few players, but as long as we have good people with good ideas, good direction and good discipline, we’ll get there. The guys here need to step up and take responsibility. “
While Postecoglou – a 55-year-old Australian of Greek descent – joined 2019 J League Japanese champion Yokohama, Dominic McKay stepped down from Scottish rugby management to replace Peter Lawwell as general manager.
“Callum is perfect for the role of captain,” said Postecoglou, former Australia national team manager. “He understands this football club, its values and its 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.
As Postecoglou – named following the breakdown of lengthy negotiations between Celtic and former Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe last month – McGregor spoke very well on a media conference call on Monday.
As the former tried to implement his own style of play, there could have been some fury off the pitch surrounding Scotland striker Leigh Griffiths, who was sent home early from Welsh training camp at Celtic after allegations he sent inappropriate messages to two schoolgirls via social media. . Griffiths has now been cleared by police but, despite returning to the squad for the first leg on Tuesday night, he is wanted by League One club Sunderland. A loan could still materialize.
As the police investigated, Postecoglou compartmentalized the incident. “I didn’t want any distractions from what we were doing at camp,” he said. “And even though Leigh wasn’t with us, I didn’t think about it.
“It was an absolutely serious thing and that’s why I let the authorities take care of it. As I told Leigh, the standards I expect are pretty clear. If people don’t reach them, no matter who they are, they will be treated. But once that’s settled, we move on.
When asked if he thought Griffiths needed to “screw his head properly”, the Celtic manager’s response seemed revealing. “I think you should probably ask Leigh this question,” he said. “But I gave him the opportunity to contribute to our season. The rest is up to him.
McGregor echoed similar sentiments. “I had a quick conversation with Leigh,” he said. “It’s about him coming in, hanging his head, eliminating all other distractions from his life and just focusing on his football.
“It’s time for Leigh to really get down on her knees and focus on her football again. He is paid to give everything to this club. At this time of transition, we need everyone to push in the right direction. “
After a friendly draw at Bristol City and a home loss to Preston, Postecoglou is hoping for improvement against the Danish champions.
“It will be a good challenge for us, Midtjylland is 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 great – and our supporters deserve to see their team play great football and strive for success every time they play. We cannot look for excuses.
Perhaps but, given the current context, it would be understandable for Postecoglou to have hit a few, especially after recent injuries to Karamoko Dembélé and Mikey Johnston who look set to rule out this influential pair until the fall.
“They both had pretty significant injuries and will be out for a while,” he said. “It’s disappointing. I couldn’t wait to work with them because they’re two exciting wingers, the kind of players I love. It’s a blow – and they have a pretty big rehab ahead of them.
The same could be said of Celtic as a club.