JOHN Collins was firmly behind Ronny Deila’s decision to promote Callum McGregor to the Celtic first team during his two year stint as assistant manager at Parkhead and has had, despite the flak the youngster took off supporters early on, no cause to regret his decision since.

McGregor has overcome his difficult start, during which he was often subjected to stinging criticism from his own side's fans, and is now one of the treble Treble winners’ most consistent players not to mention a regular with Scotland.

Collins has followed the midfielder’s career with interest in the three years since he departed the East End of Glasgow and is no doubts his former pupil is ready to graduate to a higher level should he desire to move on.

The 51-year-old played in Europe with French club Monaco, who he helped to reach the Champions League semi-final, as well as down in England with Everton and Fulham after leaving Celtic. He firmly believes his young compatriot can do the same.

Speculation that Brendan Rodgers will target McGregor as well as James Forrest and Kieran Tierney this summer has persisted since the Northern Irishman left for Premier League club Leicester City back in February. It would be no surprise if a multi-million pound bid was forthcoming in the weeks ahead.

The 25-year-old is content at Celtic and signed a contract committing himself to his boyhood heroes until 2023 last year. However, Collins has no doubt he would flourish in the top flight down south if he wanted to try another challenge.

Asked if McGregor was good enough to play for Leicester at an event at Hampden this week a year before the Euro 2020 finals get underway, he said: “Of course he is. Without a shadow of a doubt, not a probable at all. Callum McGregor could play in any company.

"He is a football player who can control and pass the ball, has good stamina, is intelligent, very rarely gives the ball away, penetrates with a killer pass.

“The physicality would not be a problem, but he would need to be in a team that plays football. He has got a first touch as good as anybody in England. His first touch is sensational.

“Go and watch him, look at his head during a match, looking, looking. He rarely bumps into people. The ball comes to him in between opponents which is the sign of a good player. He avoids contact.

“That’s key for any top-class player in the middle of the pitch. It’s a congested area. certain players always bump into others - I’m not going to mention names - but that’s because they have no awareness.

“Sometimes they get away with it because they are strong, but the best players on the best teams receive the ball between opponents. And their team-mates give them at the right time.

“Watch PSG and Man City, their players receive the ball in space, in Scottish football it’s man for man and everyone is smashing into each other.”

McGregor has come a long way since he made his first team debut at the age of 21 in a Champions League qualifier against KR Reykjavík back at the start of the 2014/15 season. But the upward trajectory he has been on since has been no surprise to Collins.

“He came back from Notts County and we had no hesitation in putting him in the team,” he said. “Callum is my type of player, he is left footed so I could relate to him. He likes one-twos, he likes scoring goals and he never hides on the football pitch.

“The very first day we had him for training I saw a lot that I liked. We gave him his opportunity and don’t forget he played in numerous positions.

“He scored massive goals for Celtic from the minute he went in. He was a Champions League goalscorer from the off, it wasn’t something he turned into. He produced the moment he was given that first team jersey and Celtic fans didn’t appreciate him enough.

“They were the first to moan when he had one bad pass. I always spoke to Callum during that period. I told him he was a top, top player, I was always reassuring him and urging him to keep doing what he was doing.

“He’s humble, he hasn’t changed and I knew he would go on to have a great career. He trains correctly every day, he’s a coaches’ dream and I told Brendan that when he first phoned to ask about the job and players.

“I told Brendan he would enjoy working with Callum and he was a fixture in Brendan’s team. He scores goals, he makes goals, he works hard for the team.”

Collins was renowned for his physical fitness during his playing days and he suspects that McGregor has flourished due to having that complete dedication to his profession as well. He feels the number of appearances his countryman made at home and abroad in the 2018/19 campaign underlines that.

“To play 69 games in one season is a phenomenal achievement,” he said. “It’s a sign of someone who is looking after his body and playing at the top level. It’s also a sign of someone being successful. It’s great testament to him.”

Tierney, another player who got his chance at Celtic under Deila, has perhaps paid the price for the number of games he has played. The left back was troubled by persistent injuries last season and has had to undergo a double hernia operation.

Collins knows from personal experience how eager the defender is to play and reckons he should pick and choose his games going forward in order to avoid similar difficulties in the seasons ahead.

“One thing is for sure, Kieran’s injuries are down to bad luck,” he said. “He eats, sleeps and breathes football, he eats, sleeps and breathes Celtic. Kieran gives 110 per cent every training session, he doesn’t know how to pace himself.

“If you watch him, he gives everything for the team and he’s maybe suffered for playing through little niggles when he should have maybe rested. He doesn’t like missing games and perhaps he hasn’t told the manager he was struggling. Fingers crossed this is the end of his injury problems.

“For the type of player he is he plays three positions in every match. He’s a full-back, a winger and a midfielder. Maybe he’ll learn to have a little break for the last half hour or perhaps have a rest in games especially after the Champions League and it’s perhaps an easier home fixture.

“There are huge demands on players at the moment, both physically and mentally and that’s why you have to bring in rotation. But you need a quality of player to be able to do maintain the standard because Celtic supporters demand that standard and tempo every week. It’s a tough job for the manager to try and balance all that.”

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