BRENDAN Rodgers believes Celtic’s European specialist Callum McGregor is living proof that Scotland can still produce top quality footballers.

The Celtic manager insisted the 25-year-old can be one of his key men on Thursday night when Spanish side Valencia come to Glasgow on Thursday for the first leg of the last 32 Europa League tie.

McGregor has scored big goals for Celtic over the past two seasons in Europe, including a superb strike at this stage a year ago against Zenit St Petersburg, plus a superb goal against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, and is currently enjoying the best season of his career.

Rodgers’s side face huge task to get past Valencia and win a knock-out tie for the first time since Martin O’Neill’s side reached the UEFA Cup quarter final in 2004.

And he believes McGregor has shown to have the technical ability to prove the country is still capable of bringing through young players who can cope at a European level.

Rodgers said: “I have enjoyed watching the development of a lot of players and Callum is one of them. People ask ‘where’s the talent in Scotland?’ but look at a player like him – it’s there.

“Callum does the basics well and has a level of excellence every day, which he takes into the games. He’s a brilliant player.

“When I first came in, John Kennedy told me all about Callum. He’s played in his young teams and he’d seen him coming through. Early on, I could tell quickly that he was technically gifted.

“It was then a case of Callum knowing that I had the confidence in him and wanted to extend his game a bit more.

“That was about having personality as there is a fine line with good players. They have talent but personality and belief can take you to the next level.

“I wanted to help him and give him confidence, and now you can see the personality in his play. He has confidence and ability, and now flourishes in every game.”

McGregor is one of the front runners for player of the year having improved even on last season when he emerged as one of Celtic’s most influential players.

And his manager boasted that he could play the gifted Scotland international in almost any position on the pitch.

Rodgers said: “The simplicity of Callum’s game is all based on his view of the game. The really gifted players have a view on every position on the pitch.

“I can play Callum as a left-back moving inside, I can play him as a No10 and he gets a goal. I can play him deeper as a playmaker and he can play on the left, coming in to be the extra man in midfield.

“He just has this wonderful view of football – he gets it and understands the game. Callum also has this glorious first touch that sets him up whatever way he wants to go. He is such a big talent and I am happy that he is getting the accolades now.

“Sometimes if you are not running about smashing a player, you might not get the plaudits and recognition. But Callum’s ability and courage to get on the ball, pass it and take it under pressure. He’s a wonderful player to have.”

HeraldScotland | Sport

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