Ange Postecoglou was always going to be an admirer of Callum McGregor the player.
Technically gifted, rarely wastes a pass and a goal threat from midfield. What’s not to admire?
But the Celtic gaffer has probably been even more impressed by McGregor the man.
Postecoglou won’t have known too much about him when he got here last summer.
Now, his new-look Hoops team is built around the Scot.
And it’s his manner, attitude and professionalism off the pitch, as much as on it, that pleases him the most.
On Wednesday night, McGregor showed another side to him by defying a serious facial injury to play against Rangers in a mask.
He drove his team to a resounding 3-0 victory over their Old Firm rivals, despite the pain and discomfort.
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The internet clip doing the rounds of him chasing down a terrified Borna Barisic in the first half typified his and Celtic’s display.
He had fire in his belly during the 90 minutes but at full-time he was seen telling Celtic’s players to keep a lid on their celebrations and not get carried away.
Postecoglou reckons McGregor is just about the perfect captain.
So much so, that his manager says he’s the type of guy he’d invite round to his house for dinner and a blether.
The Celtic boss said: “Callum is a very sensitive young man. He’s someone you’d like to have round for dinner – and you’d have a polite conversation with him.
“But he’s very serious about being successful and he wants this group of players to be successful.
“He feels responsible for them and wants to guide them in the right way.
“That’s why we’ve got such good harmony here.
“But he knows the job’s not done yet. The end goal is still ahead of us.
“By all means, enjoy the moment. But we all understand that on Sunday we wake up and go again. That’s been the mantra since I got here and that’s what we drive into the players on a daily basis.
“It’s a credit to the environment that Callum’s created.
“Everyone saw him put in an outstanding performance on Wednesday night.
“He had some challenges going into the game, in terms of playing in a mask.
“Callum doesn’t have to provide anything to me or to anyone else. It’s inspiring when you see him out there leading from the front, getting involved in such a big game and driving the players.
“It’s inspiring to see. I’m sure it inspired his teammates and everyone who was watching the game.”
For Postecoglou’s brand of football, he probably couldn’t have hand-picked a better Scottish player to help him implement it.
And the Hoops gaffer reckons McGregor is getting even better.
He believes the 28-year-old has progressed for club and country in the last year.
He’s thriving in the skipper role after taking the armband from Celtic legend Scott Brown.
And McGregor’s performances this season have played a massive part in taking Postecoglou’s side to the top of the Scottish Premiership table.
The manager said: “Callum’s a fantastic footballer. I don’t like comparing players I’ve worked with because they’re in different environments.
“But he has everything you need in a midfielder for the modern game. He’s excellent technically, he’s brave on the ball, and he looks to get on it in difficult circumstances.
“He uses all the attributes he has really effectively. He works with an economy of movement and touches that allows him to play the quick football that I like.
“He’s an international and even at that level, Steve Clarke has said he’s gone to new heights.
“Leadership sits on Callum more now but it’s progressing his game.
“I love technical footballers and that’s what he is.
“I like the fact that when things run smoothly, a lot of what he does go unnoticed because of the efficiency in the way he does it.”
From the starting line-up that mauled Rangers at Parkhead in midweek, nine players were Postecoglou signings.
Only McGregor and full-back Greg Taylor were at the club when he arrived from Japan last summer.
He’s grateful to have two Scots who know the club, the league and the city – so they can help new boys settle in.
But Postecoglou says Glasgow is a sink or swim environment.
And thankfully for him, due to the work he’s done with his players since the start of the season, very few are drowning.
As he prepared for today’s clash against Motherwell at Fir Park, he said: “It does help to have boys like Cal and Get around, but ultimately, they can’t protect the others.
“The new players get exposed in an environment like Wednesday night and it’s up to them to rise to the challenge.
“I said to them before the game that this hasn’t been a smooth ride for us to this point.
“We’ve had to take knocks and overcome different challenges. The word I use with this team is battle-hardened. Because nothing has come easy for us.
“Going into a big game like Wednesday, they were ready. Whatever we say to them about the atmosphere and intensity – they were prepared for it.
“The preparation doesn’t just come 45 minutes before the game. It comes from training and playing every week in that manner.
“It helps that Callum and Greg have experienced it before. But our role is to prepare every player for these big games.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.