BRENDAN RODGERS admits it is a “privilege” to work with Callum McGregor, the player he rates as the “heartbeat of this team”.

The returning Celtic manager welcomed the news the captain had signed a new five-year deal which will keep him at the champions until he is 35.

McGregor has been pivotal in the Hoops’ revival over the past two years that have yielded five of the six domestic honours up for grabs after the wretched 2020/21 campaign when the team limped to the finishing line without a trophy for the first time in 11 years.

The Scotland international midfielder was a key man for Ange Postecoglou and his influence will now be utilised by Rodgers.

ALONE WITH HIS THOUGHTS…Brendan Rodgers on his return to Lennoxtown last week. Image courtesy Celtic TV.

The second time-around Hoops gaffer said: “It’s amazing news for the club, for the supporters and for the players, but as a manager it’s extra special to have someone of that quality captain the team.

“Callum’s just such an inspirational player and I’m absolutely delighted to working with him again.

“He’s a player who is undervalued immensely and it’s not until you work with Callum that you really recognise the qualities he has.

“Firstly, as a player because that’s the priority, to develop him as a footballer, but also as a person because he’s a great man. It’s been great to see that development, from the time I was first with him and now coming back four years later and seeing him evolve even more.”

Rodgers, speaking to Celtic TV, added: “He’s the heartbeat of this team. He’s taken on the responsibility of being captain of a worldwide institution with great effect and we’ll look to continue that development.

HIGH FIVES…a beaming Brendan Rodgers prepares to congratulate Callum McGregor after Celtic’s 4-3 win over Motherwell at Fir Park in December 2016.

“At 30 years of age, he’s still got a lot that he can win and still lots of improvements to make – and I know that he’s hungry to do that.

“What’s most important is that he’s there for the team. He always has been and now, as captain of the club, he’s a real selfless leader and for me to have someone lead the team like that and be my coach on the field.

“It’s a great privilege to work with him.”

Fortunately, Rodgers was unsuccessful in a bid to lure McGregor to Leicester City during his four years at the Midlands club, as CQN reported last month.

The double-act first met when the former Liverpool boss took over from Ronny Deilia in May 2016 and it was a mutual admiration act from day one as the Hoops collected seven successive domestic honours before the pair separated in February 2019.

SMILES BETTER…Callum McGregor with the Scottish Cup last month after Celtic sealed a world record eighth treble.

In the summer of 2020, there were reports of a £25million bid for the Glaswegian around the time Kieran Tierney had left for Arsenal for an identical fee.

Candidly, Rodgers admitted: “Did I try to get Callum to Leicester? Yes. I was keen to get him. When I left, you had him and Kieran here. And certainly, when whichever one of them left, the other one was probably never going to get away.

“Kieran was the one who went to Arsenal. But, for me, Callum would have been perfect for the Premier League. He could have come in and imposed how I wanted to play.

“Callum is tactically brilliant, one of the best I’ve worked with. But I’m really glad he stayed now! And I’m very happy that he’s the captain.”

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