In the face of criticism from the First Minister and fan backlash, Callum McGregor defends the Celtic Dubai trip

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CELTIC midfielder Callum McGregor defended his club’s Dubai winter training camp in the midst of a backlash against the travel back to Scotland by politicians and fans.

During the coronavirus pandemic, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday challenged the need for a training camp in the United Arab Emirates and raised concerns about whether Celtic players abroad will follow strict protocols.

But while even Celtic fans have widely expressed concern about the overseas trip while another large-scale lockdown is being coped with by the rest of the world, McGregor argues that the trip was appropriate to brace the players for a grueling second half of the league campaign.

The camp gives us the chance to get out and train intensively in the warm environment, and that’s the main benefit of fitness work – it’s something that can’t be replicated in the cold weather at home,”The camp gives us the opportunity to get out in the warm climate and train intensively, and that’s the main benefit of fitness work – it’s something you can’t replicate at home in the cold weather,”

When you function at that pace, the added advantage of the heat increases your health, gives you a different degree of fitness when you come back, and it’s almost difficult to duplicate it in the colder environment.

He said, “The goal of the training camp is to work as hard as you can and take that into the next phase of the season,”

This time, the circumstances are a little different, but the journey and its intent are exactly the same: we come here, train incredibly hard, hit the reset button and then leave.

“The trip has been the same the last few years, as well as the benefits of it when it comes to fitness, keeping everyone on their toes and getting the guys who maybe haven’t played as much soccer up to speed.”

From a footballing point of view, McGregor hopes the trip to Dubai will be a forum for Celtic to repeat the form of last season after the winter break as they seek to place at least some pressure on Rangers at the top of the Premiership table for a similar winning streak.

McGregor, who on Saturday captained his side at Ibrox and whose tragic own goal eventually proved to be the difference between the two teams, acknowledges that loss is going to be hard to handle. But he also says that the Celtic ranks are determined to react strongly with a victory in the three games they currently have in hand against the men of Steven Gerrard.

“The challenge at Celtic is to try and win every game,” he said. Of course, if you do not manage to do so, everybody is frustrated.

That goes for the players as well, and in the right way, you have to deal with the disappointment. That’s what you have to do when you get the opportunity to make it up to them.

“It’s a big task, we have three games left and we need to win all three of them to make up the deficit and give ourselves a chance. We’ve known that since we got to the cup final last year – we missed one game of that in the league, so we know the points gap looks bigger than it actually is.”

McGregor strongly assumes that the point gap psychology at the top of the table will play a significant role in how the season eventually plays out.

While the 19-point lead Rangers currently have seems like a chasm, he assumes that the mindset of Rangers might change if Celtic can reduce the lead to 10 points with wins in their remaining games.

He claims that if they can do just that, the burden will be on the shoulders of the Rangers players to prove that they are made of the right material to win the long-awaited championship.

“When we start having these games in hand, you naturally start playing catch-up,” he said.

From there, we know that anything can happen and you can see what teams are made of once you get close and how far you can drive them.

For us, that’s the objective: get in range, close the distance and see how close we can get.

“And that’s the goal of training camp: to get everyone together, train super hard, and then when we come back, everyone is refreshed and working toward the goal at the end of the season.”

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