TAKE the ball, pass the ball. This simple drill was at the centre of Pep Guardiola’s philosophy during a four-year spell at Barcelona which changed football.
It is also the name of a documentary on that great side, which is out now and well worth a look. It serves as a reminder of how easy truly great footballers can make the game look.
Scotland have never had a Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez or Andres Iniesta, three geniuses who made that team purr, reduced world-class opponents to chasing shadows and put a smile on the face of everyone lucky enough to watch poetry in motion.
We actually don’t mind that it has been 25 years since the national team had anyone we could claim to at least be close to an elite, not really, but a question often asked over these barren years is why is it our players can’t seem to do the basics. Such as take a touch and make a pass.
Callum McGregor is no Xavi but this supremely talented footballer does the basics better than anyone in the Scottish Premiership. He plays first-time passes, dribbles, defends, scores and create goals and is a player the Scotland team really ought to be built around.
The 25-year-old is the best outfield player in the country and has six caps. Why is it we seem to ignore those who closest replicate what the best do?
Peter Grant, the Scotland assistant to Alex McLeish, is a long-time fan of someone who made the journey he did a few years back now from Celtic boys club to the first team. Grant would be the first to admit McGregor is a far superior player to what he was.
If Scotland are to progress, McGregor must be one the key players in Albania on Saturday and then at home to Israel. Grant agrees.
“Callum is a fantastic talent because he understands the game,” Grant said. “We criticise a lot of young players nowadays for not understanding the game because there’s so much coaching goes on. You can be told a lot of things but understanding them is a bit different and wherever Callum’s played he seems to have produced, that’s great credit to him.
“He’s played left-back. He’s very unusual. He’s got an eye for a goal, takes up fantastic positions but also sees a pass. In the modern game it’s so important you are able to handle the ball and no matter where Callum plays he seems to be able to do that.
“He seems to be getting more mature and more game-time. He used to be in and out and moving position and, probably, it became a weakness for him because he was asked to play so many roles but he’s seeing the benefit of that now because you can put him anywhere and you’re getting top-quality performances from him.
“I was told when I was young that if you didn’t have a first touch and a final pass then put your shoes in the bin because if you didn’t have these traits then you wouldn’t make it at the top level. You get so little time in games. You can get a bit of extra time if you take a good first touch but then you have to execute a pass. Callum can do that. He’s taken it to that next level. We trust Callum.
“Celtic are in a bit of form and, for me, it’s down to that guy in the middle. Someone described Callum as the Tom Brady of Celtic at this moment in time. That is the way he’s playing. This gives the national team a player who can operate in different areas of the pitch which is handy for us because you need to be able to handle the ball. He can do that fantastically well.”
McGregor has been sitting deeper in recent weeks and, whisper this, Scott Brown has not really been missed by Celtic. He can play there for Scotland, a hugely important role because there are going to be times in the next two matches when Albania and Israel will dominate the ball. He is a midfielder capable of playing just about every role. The role for McLeish is to get the best out of, on form, his best player.
“Callum is so good that as long as he’s in an area where he can affect the game then that’s the important thing,” said Grant. “He can affect games from scoring, has a lovely left foot on him, he has great deliveries from set plays, and he is a fantastic of the ball and can see things.
“We know Callum can play. We won’t pigeon hole him. We want him an area where he can play, where he can affect our team and the opposition.”
McGregor is one of those at Celtic who would be happy to play all his days for the club but there might come a time when a Premiership side give him something to think about.
“Could be play for one of the big Premier League clubs? Absolutely,” is the opinion of Grant who has lived in England for 21 years. “Why? Because he can handle the ball.
“Everybody watched Match of the Day the other night there [Ruud Gullit spoke of small, nimble players being in fashion]. Who is the best player in the world? It’s Lionel Messi now, Diego Maradona in my time. People who can pass the ball, who can do something different with the ball. Callum can do that. He picks passes. People say, ‘he was only playing against Dundee’. It doesn’t matter. You still have to be able to see the passes and execute them, you still need a first touch and final pass. He’s got that.”
Source : HeraldScotland