Callum McGregor keen for Celtic’s symbolic Huddle to continue amid Covid-19 crisis

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PERHAPS AstraZeneca, BioNTech, Boris Johnson, Jason Leitch, Pfizer and Nicola Sturgeon should consider enlisting the help of Callum McGregor in their ongoing battle against coronavirus.

The Celtic midfielder once again featured in the top 10 of the so-called “Indestructible Rankings” – a list compiled by the CIES Football Observatory in Switzerland every year that shows who has played the most in the world game – in 2020.

He somehow managed, despite the lengthy shutdown and widespread upheaval caused by the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, to spend 4,106 minutes on the park for both club and country.

When 13 of the Glasgow club’s players were forced to self-isolate last Sunday after Christopher Jullien tested positive on his return from Dubai, it was typical, if fortuitous, that McGregor wasn’t among them.

The Scotland internationalist’s indefatigability is every bit as impressive as his ability.

That the escalating crisis has wreaked untold havoc in the Scottish game as well as the wider world, though, was once again obvious after McGregor led a makeshift Celtic side out onto the field to face Hibernian at Parkhead on Monday night.

The Huddle, the quadruple treble winners’ traditional pre-match ritual, was a socially-distanced affair and the pep talk from the stand-in captain a brief one in the wake of the controversy over their trip to Dubai.

“The club decided not to do the normal Huddle given the spotlight that was on us at that time,” he said yesterday as he looked ahead to the Premiership game against on-form Livingston at Parkhead this afternoon.

“Our Covid guy and the physio asked us to do that. We just try to show and do the right things as much as possible. As the next few games come around we will just need to look at that.

“For the Livingston match I will just take the directive from the club again. I will see what we can do and then take it from there. It’s their decision.

“It was strange, but I just tried to keep it short. It loses a bit of its appeal when you aren’t that close together. I tried to do most of the talking before the game and then it’s about the football when we get on the pitch.

“But the Huddle is symbolic in terms of Celtic so we want to keep that going, even we can’t do it properly. We will just take it on a game by game basis.”

The celebrations after David Turnbull’s stunning late free-kick were also, like an SPFL Zoom call with their member clubs, strangely muted.

However, McGregor, who was available to play because he wasn’t in close proximity to Jullien on the flight back to Scotland from the United Arab Emirates, accepts that, with coronavirus infection rates at record levels, changes have to be made.

“You can get why these rules are in place,” he said. “Football is probably having more cases than before during this.

“That’s due to the second strain being more transmissible and you know the virus isn’t going to stop for football games.

“So whether you are a footballer or you work in an industry, the virus is the same and transmits the same. People are starting to pick up on that and are looking to cut as much contact as possible.

“It’s being done for the right reasons and anyone involved in football will know it’s not as easy as just saying that. But we have to respect these guys and do it as much as we can.”

McGregor will be invaluable to Neil Lennon, who is among those in quarantine, this afternoon. The visitors have won their last six league meetings and will fancy their chances against hosts who will once again need to field fringe men and youths to put out a side.

But the vice-captain has been impressed with how the likes of Karamoko Dembele, Cameron Harper, Ewan Henderson, Armstrong Oko-Flex and Stephen Welsh have stepped up in Celtic’s hour of need and is hopeful they will be able to cope.

“We’ve been down to the bare bones a bit this week, but the boys who have come in have been excellent in training,” he said. “The squad’s in a good place and positive going in to the game against Livingston.

“In terms of my responsibility, I just try to be myself in terms of the example I set to the young boys, with my training, time keeping, behaviour, that kind of thing. Hopefully the young guys can see that and follow that example. We need to set good standards for them.

“But the lads who have come up have got to the level in training really well. I’ve not even had to pick up any fines, so that’s a good sign.”

McGregor added: “They have to see it as an opportunity to impress by doing the right things and having a good attitude.

“I’ve been there myself as a young lad. You want to come in and make an impact. You might see one or two might step up and show they are ready now, one or two might take a bit more time. But that’s about learning from the experience.

“The good thing is they see the first team boys setting the right standards and they can learn from that for the next time or when they come up full time, and the whole cycle starts again.

“It’s obviously been strange without the manager being here, but we’ve had calls and he’s still having an input on a daily basis. The squad is in touch with him.”

McGregor knows that Celtic will need to be at their very best to get back to winning ways in the first of their back-to-back encounters with the West Lothian outfit.

“They’ve picked up really well and are on a great run of form,” he said. “They’ll be going in to these games feeling good about themselves and highly motivated. It’s up to match that enthusiasm, workrate and intensity – that’s all a given.

“We have to find a way to win the two games, starting at Parkhead on Saturday. We need to be positive and play football to get a good result to take in to Wednesday, which will need different qualities.”

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