Callum McGregor will be ready, willing and able to deputise for Scott Brown against Kilmarnock this afternoon, and – should the need arise – in Celtic’s Europa League return against Copenhagen on Thursday night.
That is not too surprising. He has done so before, not only in terms of taking the captain’s armband but also in adopting the deep-lying midfield role from where Brown, who picked up a calf injury in Denmark, anchors the team.
Hoops manager Neil Lennon has both lauded the 26-year-old for his ability to take on tactical instructions and his attitude in general. He is, as has been said, a skipper-in-waiting.
What is revealing, however, is the relish with which McGregor views this side of the game. Long-term, he fancies the idea of one day being the man handing out the instructions.
“I think I do fancy coaching in the long-term. It is something that is probably in my mind,” said the midfielder
“I try every day to take in as much information as I can. Working with the manager and the coaches, you try to pick up as much knowledge as you can.
“Then, hopefully, in the future you can put that to good use.
“When I am not playing, I like to sit and watch the game and follow the tactical side of it.
“Most people watch football, see a goal and maybe think: ‘Oh that was a great finish’.
“What gets missed sometimes is how you get there in some of these moves. How you get into the final third.
“That bit is very interesting, and trying to figure it out is something I enjoy.”
Willingness – to learn and slot in wherever needed on the pitch – has been a defining characteristic of McGregor’s career.
He thrived in an unfamiliar environment on-loan at Notts County, bought into Brendan Rodgers’ demands for high-energy pressing and has made himself so indispensable to Lennon, that at one stage this season he had played more games than any footballer in the world.
As much as the Celtic manager deserves credit for ditching his favoured formation of 4-2-3-1, in favour of a bolder 3-5-2 in response to defeat by Rangers at Celtic Park, he owes at least part of the success to the smooth way McGregor has adapted to getting pushed up the pitch.
“The manager has been excellent over the year he has been in charge, “ said McGregor.
“There have been some lows for the team – that is just football. But the stats for victories and goals scored, topping our Europa League group, are proof of how good he has been,” said McGregor.
“After the winter break he made changes in terms of personnel and system, which probably nobody expected, and they have worked so well.
“We look a threat, we are scoring lots of goals and also we are defending really well. You look at us now and you say there is a proper balance there.
“It has taken me a little while to adjust to how he wants us to play.
“I am counter-attacking now and, in the first bit of the season, myself and Scott Brown were playing as a two, which sorts of limits you going forward – you let the front four get on with it a bit more.
“Once the manager asks you to do a job that is what you try to do – whatever it may be.
“If there is an adjustment period then you try to get through it. We are professionals and you try to do a job.
“You want to be flexible, so you attempt to add different bits to your game.
“The first six months was probably trying to learn the more-defensive side of playing in a two with Scott. Now I am going further forward, which is my natural game.”
And development, individual and collective, is crucial to Celtic’s plans.
A year on from crashing weakly to Valencia at the last-32 stage of the Europa League, the Scottish champions will go into Thursday’s home leg against Copenhagen as favourites to reach the final 16.
“Things did feel flat after Valencia but we have kicked on,” said the Scotland internationalist. “We had a really good group campaign and that breeds confidence.
“You could see that in the last few minutes in Denmark when we were hanging on. We knew that if we got through it we would have a good chance back in Glasgow.
“There is resilience in the group. We will need that as we have exciting challenges ahead of us between now and the end of the season.”