Celtic midfielder Callum McGregor insists the benefits of their much-criticised training camp in Dubai are impossible to recreate back in Scotland.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has questioned the purpose of Celtic’s trip and whether they are complying with protocols around social-distancing.
Celtic managed to push back their home game against Hibernian 48 hours to next Monday night – against the wishes of their opponents – to facilitate their trip after going on good runs following visits to Dubai during recent winter breaks.
McGregor told the club’s official website: “The camp lets us come away into the warm climate and have intense training, and that’s the main benefit of the fitness work – it’s something you can’t replicate at home in the cold weather.
“The added benefit of the heat improves your fitness when you’re working at that intensity, it gives you a different level of fitness when you go back, and it’s pretty much impossible to recreate that back in the colder climate.
“The objective of the camp is to work as hard as we possibly can and take that into the next stretch of the season. It’s slightly different circumstances this time, but the trip and its purpose is exactly the same: we come here, we train exceptionally hard, we hit the reset button and then we go again.
“The trip has been the same for the last few years, as have the benefits of that in terms of fitness work, keeping everyone at their sharpest and getting the boys who’ve maybe not played as much football up to speed.
“We come here, we train exceptionally hard, we hit the reset button and then we go again.”
As well as being criticised for flying out to the Middle East 48 hours before a new lockdown was introduced in Scotland, some fans are unhappy that the trip went ahead in the wake of Celtic’s 1-0 defeat by Rangers on Saturday.
The result left Celtic 19 points adrift, but McGregor stressed they had to keep believing and plugging away.
“It’s a big task, we’ve got three games in hand and we have to win all three of those to close the gap and give us a chance,” said McGregor, whose own goal handed Rangers victory.
“We’ve known that since we reached the cup final last year – we missed a game in the league from that, so we know that the points gap looks bigger than what it actually is.
“Naturally, when we start to play those games in hand, you start to eat up the gap.
“From there, we know that anything can happen in the sense that, once you get close, you start to see what teams are made of and how far you can push them.
“That’s the objective for us: to get within touching distance, to close the gap and see how close we can get it.
“And that’s the objective of the training camp: to bring everyone together, train super hard and then when we come back everyone is refreshed and working towards the objective come the end of the season.”