How about this for a jarring statistic? Callum McGregor only made his senior Scotland debut in 2017.

Given the importance of Celtic’s ever-influential captain to Steve Clarke’s squad, it is one of those facts you feel compelled to look up, check, then check again. The now 29-year-old may have been forced to wait for his breakthrough, but his influence on the national team is laid bare in that he is now set to win his 50th cap, five years on from caretaker manager Malky Mackay affording him a chance against the Netherlands at Pittodrie.

That half century included Euro 2020 and becoming the first male Scotland player to score at a major tournament in over two decades, albeit in a painful defeat to Croatia that ended the team’s return to the big stage as quickly as it had begun. Another qualifying campaign, this time for Euro 2024, begins against Cyprus this coming Saturday, and with it comes the chance for McGregor to tick another box in his glittering career.

“It will be a proud moment of course,” the midfielder said. “Every time you represent the national team is a proud day and to make my 50th appearance is something I’m really happy about. 

“A lot of hard work, dedication and sacrifice has gone into that. So, it will be a nice little milestone if I’m selected to play. 

“Like any young footballer you have to bide your time and wait your turn. The group in front of me were all really good players and the manager trusted his squad. You just have to be there, train as hard as you can and force your way in at the right time. 

“Sometimes you have to be patient, but I was always desperate to get in. And once I got in, I was desperate to stay there and rack up as many appearances as I could.”

In topping Nations League Group B, the theory was Scotland’s qualification path to 2024 should be smoothed. Of course, we should have known better: out came Spain, Norway fronted by Erling Haaland, and an up-and-coming Georgia side boasting one of the best players in the world this season in Napoli’s Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. The value of having that one player who can win matches on their own has been proven many times over in international football, and McGregor knows Scotland face a serious challenge.

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“When the draw was made it looked a really tough group,” he admitted. “There are good quality individuals and in international football there are no easy games. 

“Everybody is really fit and organised and has good quality. You can’t discount anybody, each game is really important. 

“We want to get the possible start against Cyprus and take it from there. As soon as you get there [to a tournament] and have a taste and a flavour of it, you want more. 

“It was great to see what being at a major tournament looked like for the country. I think everybody will agree it was a really exciting summer and we want to get back there. 

“We loved the experience of playing at that level and trying to compete. We want to get there again and not be a one-tournament wonder.”

The international break puts a two-week pause on Celtic’s march towards another Premiership title and the prospect of a Treble. Scotland’s last outing, in which McGregor played no part, came all the way back in November.

Clarke is rarely afforded much time to work on the training pitch but one of the perils of a quick shift from domestic to international duty is being caught cold on that first game back. McGregor, though, says that while there are differences between Ange Postecoglou and Clarke’s respective styles, many of the fundamentals remain the same.

“Different teams play different styles but the core principles are pretty much the same,” he explained. “You have to be competitive and win duels. Do all the right things, be tidy on the ball, spend the majority of the game with the ball and, when you don’t have it, be organised and compact.

“All these principles are pretty much the same. There are one v one contests all over the pitch and if you win more of them you can be successful.”

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The last time Scotland played Cyprus, McGregor partnered Rangers’ Ryan Jack in midfield, a combination which served Clarke well in the run to Euro 2020. And the Celtic skipper is pleased to see his domestic rival back in the fold following an injury-blighted period.

The squad is full of good players and whoever the manger selects will be trusted to do the job. 

I’ve player with a number of different partners and always tried to strike  a nice balance. It’s great to see Ryan back in there. Obviously when we go away we are all Scotland players and we are all pulling in the same direction. 

“We all want to be successful. Playing with Ryan was good. We struck up a nice partnership and our games complemented each other.”