There is something entrancing about seeing a man turn his station in life around that the masses find so indelible, it’s probably why we see about fifty of these types of stories churned out by Hollywood every year. Seldom, however, do we get the opportunity to see someone turn themselves around so quickly and decisively, as we have with Scott Brown. For large swathes of last couple of seasons, Brown presented himself as caricature of manliness, strutting around the park, clumsily barging into foes with a sneer emblazoned on his face, yet doing little to influence games through his footballing talent. A low point came in the Scottish Cup semi-final last year, when the decidedly average Andy Halliday was allowed to run rampant across the Hampden turf. Worse though was to come, a nadir being reached in Gibraltar, as Brown was left ambling on a poor plastic surface, unable to stop a Lincoln Red Imps side from inflicting one of the most embracing defeats in recent history. The cries for Brown to be jettisoned were deafening.
It seemed that Brown had become a hindrance to the side, unable to administer the new tactical methods that Brendan Rodgers wished to impart on his new charges. I’m happy to report that such fears were completely unfounded. With Rodgers’ guiding hand resting on his shoulder Brown has seen new life breathed into his career. With a new fitness regime in place, the Celtic Skipper has looked a decade younger. No game now passes without seeing Brown careen around the park making tackles and intercepting opposition passes, all the while however, maintaining the ability to control the tempo and flow of games. This rejuvenation has ensured that he remains the first name that Rodgers etches onto his team sheet every week.
Rodgers has been quick to espouse the virtues of his captain, saying, “My first impressions of him were very positive and he’s a remarkable leader,”
His sustained brilliance has seen him rack up more and more appearances to the point he recently played his 400th Celtic game. That is a terrific achievement – one bettered by only 26 men in the Club’s storied history. He also holds the honour of playing the most European games in Celtic’s history.
Approaching the decade mark as a Celtic player it seems fitting to take stock of Brown and his time at the club.
Signed in 2007 for a fee of £4.4million from Hibernians, the most ever agreed by two Scottish Clubs, Brown was marked as a player of immense potential. He came with the ability to pass, move and contribute in the final third, but what was most intriguing was his mentality. Brown regularly protected his assets with numerous acts of controlled aggression, violent outbursts that, while in the laws of the game, were frightful enough to ensure he was not a player that was easily coerced. It was an added bonus that he was rumoured to have turned down Rangers in favour of a move to Celtic Park. Upon singing Brown said, “Everyone knows Celtic are one of the biggest names in football”
Under Strachan, Brown continued his development, showing a composure and assurance that was at odds with his youthful exterior. Brown was also given the chance to strut his stuff on the continental stage, a task he took to with instant success. Celtic’s number 8 started all six of the Champions League group games as the club made it to the knock-out stage for a second successive season. Scott Brown was so consistently excellent in his first two seasons that numerous reports were made linking him south of the border, with a fee likely to double or even triple the club’s investment.
While under Strachan Brown looked capable of bestriding games no matter the foe, things degenerated quite quickly under his predecessor Tony Mowbray. An ankle injury at the start of the 2010-11 season proved disastrous as Celtic floundered in his absence. Mowbray looked incapable of producing a settled side that was assured of their tactical plan. Without Brown a rotating central midfield often included a variation of Barry Robson, Landry N’Guémo, Marc Crosas and Zheng Zhi. A humiliating 4-0 defeat at the hands of St Mirren finally brought an end to Mowbray and his indecisive tenure.
His replacement, Neil Lennon, was a gamble. Lacking any managerial experience many were dubious, worried that handing the reigns to a novice while the club was in such disarray was tantamount to madness. Fortunately, Lennon proved an unmitigated success, after an admittedly rocky start. Brown operated as the club’s captain, playing in the most well-rounded side Parkhead had witnessed in more than a decade. Operating in a withdrawn role that prompted few plaudits, Brown’s role in a hugely talented central midfield that included, at various points, Wanyama, Kayal, Ledley, Ki and Commons.
Neil Lennon’s relatively smooth transition from pitch to dugout was made that much more tranquil largely down to Brown’s authority as captain. Time and time again we witnessed an arm around the shoulder if a player was playing poorly, or a visible bollocking if insufficient effort was being displayed. In essence he was an extension of Lennon himself. This was most evident in the 2010-11 season. In a hectic twenty-four-day period, Celtic played Rangers three times. The first game, a Scottish Cup fifth round tie, proved to be the most dramatic. In a furious, end-to-end, 2-2 draw at Ibrox, Brown showed the requisite composure that is often lacking in such pressurised environments. With Celtic trailing 2-1, and battling with a man fewer after Fraser Forster’s expulsion, there was the real fear that the Bhoys would be eliminated. Step up the skipper. A lay off from Marc Wilson, at the edge of the Ranger’s penalty area, was shifted onto Brown’s weaker right foot before he curled a delicate, arcing strike into the Ranger’s net. Brown then immediately turned El Hadji Diouf, arms akimbo, held tilted back in defiance and, with a mask of invincibility, stared down his hapless adversary. It will be an image forever etched into the consciousnesses of every Celtic loving fan across the globe. Aside from being immeasurably funny, the celebration also served to neuter a pretty strong Rangers side.
A fortnight later the Hoops demolished Rangers 3-0 inside Parkhead in a seriously stylish performance, before once again seeing off the eternal rivals 1-0 another fortnight later in the Cup replay. In such a prolonged war of attrition, a young side led by an inexperienced coach, could quite easily have capitulated. A huge amount of credit should be given to Brown for the calming aura he administered to the squad, that ensured that this was not the case.
It was a terrific period in both Brown and Celtic’s history, yet, largely down to the systematic stripping of the club’s better players, Lennon soon found himself abdicating his Celtic Park throne. The hierarchy opted for the gamble, Ronny Deila.
The Norwegian’s tenure has been one of the most divisive in recent years; for some he was a promising coach marred by a chairman’s reluctance to dispense funds, for others he was a man in danger of drowning – so out of his depth was he. Brown became a personification of this tumultuous time. For a while his legacy was in danger of being tarnished. It now seems as though an undue amount of criticism was pilled upon his shoulders, after admitting he was playing with a debilitating level of tendonitis in his hamstring.
As we have all seen, he has turned his fortunes around admirably. While it is hard to underestimate the influence Rodgers has had, I think a fair amount of credit for Brown’s resurgence should lay at Joey Barton’s feet. The old adage that strength begets strength would certainly appear to be applicable. Prior to the first ‘derby’ of the season, a glorious sun-drenched 5-1 drubbing, Barton, acting more like a WWE heel than a player capable of winning the Scottish title, said of Brown that he was, “nowhere near the level of player I am”.
When it came to the crunch however, Barton was left aghast as Celtic ran rampant. From the pre-game line-up, where he refused to meet Brown’s gaze, to the drop-ball he failed to contest, to the manner in which he allowed Brown to dictate the game will have left Barton’s planetary-sized ego in ruins. After the game a gleeful Brown, with a glint in his eye and the faintest smirk stretching its way across his lips said, “I think the score line talks for itself, it was pretty much men against boys at the end of the day.”
Domestically he has been imperious, bestriding midfields like a giant in the land of pygmies, yet as we all know this will be forever met with dubious looks, claims that the standard is too poor to be an accurate barometer of talent. If this is true, which as Barton’s failure proves to be a fallacy, then his European form offers no room for contention. In a group that was heavily oversaturated with talent, Brown shone. Showing grace, guile and intelligence to complete 96% of his passes. A terrific feat considering he made 411 passes against midfields that favoured a pressing style.
Looking ahead is a saliva producing, stomach grumbling prospect, that leaves every fan hungry for more of the dishes that have been served our way; a League Cup in the bag, a twenty-two-point buffer at the summit of the table, a home draw in the Scottish Cup and the opportunity to extent the run of unbeaten games that will surely eclipse that of the historic Lisbon Lions side. Wow.
Clearly this is a position to be savoured, yet Rodgers, with Brown at his right-hand side, are preparing for the future, one where even the Champions League can be attacked with a greater degree of gusto. 400 games are a huge, yet that tally can be added to. With an admirable sense of self-deprecation Brown recently said, when discussing Rodgers’ influence, “The result is I think am turning into a half-decent player which is not bad. It has only taken me about 15 years!”
While this is humorous, he does himself a disservice. He is at a stage where he is on the cusp of being mentioned in the same breath as Celtic legends of the past. If his Indian Summer continues its warmth for the next four years and the mythical ’10 in a row’ is achieved, then it will crystallise something – his reputation as a modern Lion.
FREE WORLDWIDE DELIVERY ON ALL SHIRT ORDERS THIS WEEKEND!