CALLUM McGregor has welcomed the challenge to his Scotland place posed by Chelsea youngster Billy Gilmour ahead of the Euro 2020 opener against the Czech Republic and predicted that intense competition for starting spots in every position will ensure the national team perform.

There have been calls from some supporters for Gilmour, who has acquitted himself well in his appearances for the Stamford Bridge club both domestically and in Europe this season, to be selected in the Group D match at Hampden.

The 20-year-old only made his debut for his country when he came on as a late substitute in the pre-tournament friendly against the Netherlands in Portugal last week. However, he impressed onlookers greatly during his time on the park against Luxembourg last Sunday.

His squad mate McGregor has endured a difficult season with Celtic at club level and was left out of the Scotland side that took to the field to play Austria in the opening Qatar 2022 qualifier in Glasgow back in March.

He subsequently featured in the draw with Israel away and win over the Faroe Islands at home and should probably, due to his greater experience of international football, get the nod to play alongside Scott McTominay against the Czechs.

The 30-times capped 27-year-old has enjoyed training and playing alongside Gilmour for the first time this month and predicted his presence will ensure he produces his best football and enjoys a strong finish to what has been a difficult 2020/21 campaign. He feels that everyone who is hoping to be involved is under pressure.

“Every season you get challenged by new people, different players coming through,” he said. “We are not directly in competition. I think everyone in the squad is here to play a part. It’s like that every season.

“You have to give your best and push to stay in the team, also make sure you are doing what the manager asks you to do. There is always somebody trying to catch you and take your jersey. That’s why it’s super competitive and it’s up to the players to keep pushing as much as we can every day. 

“We are here as a group, pushing to do as well as we can. Ultimately that will drive the standard for the country. Hopefully we can do everyone proud.” 

McGregor has been involved in the Scotland set-up for seven years having first been called up back in 2014 after he had broken into the Celtic team. He has gone out of his way to help the newcomers – Gilmour has been joined in the squad by Nathan Patterson and David Turnbull – integrate themselves. 

“I see that as a role for the more experienced ones,” he said. “You have to help the next crop, that’s what being a team and being a squad is all about. And then when the next crop comes through they do the same for them. 

“I had it with guys like Broony and Charlie Mulgrew who were brilliant with me at Celtic. At that time I was pushing them so it turns full circle.

“We have a younger crop now starting to push through. It’s up to us experienced guys to bring them on, to show them the ropes and the standards we set. It’s always brilliant when you have such a good group. That pushes the standard up and can only be good for the country. We have a real core of players who can all play.” 

Asked about his own form this term and hopes for Euro 2020, McGregor continued: “Everyone in football has their opinion. That’s why the net is so wide on it. We have to just focus on everyday stuff, the way we train and play. 

“Granted, the season did not go the way we planned it to. But when you build something up so much, obviously the downfall of that is going to be massive too. We have to put that behind us and there is that challenge every year. 

“Euro 2020 is such a big tournament, the equivalent of Champions League football, European football. It’s the highest level you can play at and the boys’ experiences at that level will stand us in good stead. 

“You just have to trust your past experiences, trust yourself and deliver when you go out on the pitch. I’m pretty confident in that sense. If I’m asked to play then I will be ready to give my best.

“I feel great and when you’re coming to a place like this ahead of a big tournament it only energises you. You feel full of energy, you feel fresher. The good thing is that having played so many games I feel in a good rhythm. I just want to go and do myself and the country proud.”

“There’s a real feel good factor. It’s brilliant to be part of the group, we have done so well to get here and now we have to enjoy it. There’s no point in putting all that hard work in, all that stress, to come here and not enjoy it. 

“We know how good we are. We are always getting better and we welcome the challenge to go and put these teams under pressure.”

One player who is guaranteed his place in Steve Clarke’s starting line-up tomorrow is McGregor’s former Celtic team mate Kieran Tierney. He fully expects the Arsenal left back to light up Euro 2020 and be a pivotal player for Scotland in the Group D matches against the Czechs, England and Croatia and, should they progress, the knockout rounds.

“KT has been a superstar,” he said.  I don’t think I have ever hidden my admiration for him. He has been a super talent for years and he is still getting better. 

“He has to flip when he plays in this Scotland system too (Tierney plays on the left side of a back three), but he is a tremendous player. He is full of confidence, you see him taking people on week in week out in the EPL. 

“I have no doubt he will keep going and getting better. The beauty of having him there is that he can step in if he sees it is on to break forward. And he is just as good as an attacker. That is then difficult for the opposition to set up against. I’m sure we will have that up our sleeve.”