SO WE’LL just slip that How To Be An Athlete manual quietly into the bin, shall we? Jim McLean, the former Dundee United manager, once articulated his despair at goalkeeper Hamish McAlpine’s eccentric ways by claiming “he is the one player who single-handedly destroys everything I have thought or believed about the game”.
Similarly, Scott Brown has now handed Ronny Deila, together with all other managers who worship at the altar of sports science, reason to reassess.
As Brown helped run the League Cup final for Celtic yesterday, there were clearly no ill-effects of the excesses that saw him, literally, plastered all over the front page of a tabloid on Friday. Brown even seemed to make comic reference to the stooshie by rubbing his tummy amid the celebrations at the end.
It was a reference, perhaps, to the fast food nourishment he was photographed delicately eating on a kerbside on Wednesday night. A hug from Deila proved there were no hard feelings. Indeed, Brown continues to bring new meaning to being let off Scott-free. Some would argue that this extends to referees.
Yesterday saw another decision appear to go his way after he nudged Ryan Dow over in the box in the first-half. United players were still venting their frustration in the bowels of Hampden long after the final whistle. Brown, meanwhile, was being feted by the Celtic supporters; forgiveness already assured.
Once was the time when “doing a Broonie” meant standing bug-eyed in front of an identified foe with arms outstretched. Now it has come to mean something else.
Now it means going on a bender in less salubrious parts of town four days before a major assignment. It means over-doing it to the extent that you are found slumped in a street before the clock has even struck midnight. Not necessarily a problem if you are a journalist of course (we’ve all been there, Scott).
But it’s perhaps trickier to explain if you happen to be the captain of Celtic and Scotland. Making things more awkward is the fact the manager of Celtic is a stickler for players following a code of conduct when it comes to their personal well-being. Deila relentlessly espouses the need to be “a 24-hour athlete”. It’s reasonable to assume he isn’t so keen on the 24-hour-party animal approach.
Of course, Brown’s argument (unsurprisingly, he declined to speak to reporters yesterday) is likely to be that he was home before midnight. It was almost four days before the game. Perhaps in private moments, he would also claim he is too good to drop anyway. He might well also point out that it is obvious he is one of the most committed trainers at the club – the six-pack he is not averse to displaying at the end of games has not appeared of its own accord.
Much of yesterday’s pre-match build-up concerned itself with one burning question: Will Broonie play? That question was answered with the release of the teamsheets.
Not only was Brown playing, he retained the armband. Either his apology had been sincere enough for Deila to compromise his principles or else Deila has changed his view on this “24-hour-athlete” thing. Actually, there is a third possibility; perhaps the manager realised Celtic’s chances of winning a game representing the first part of a hoped-for historic treble were better with Brown in the team than out of it.
Although he played the whole 90 minutes yesterday, and played well, ask yourself this: what would have happened had Anthony Stokes been photographed in such a state in Dublin on Wednesday night? Chances are he would have been nowhere near yesterday’s cup final line-up.
If Deila did decide Brown was too valuable to lose, then the skipper’s subsequent performance supported this view. He might have lost his first challenge when John Rankin came away with the ball. But, in the matter of who came out top in that particular midfield battle, there was only one winner.
Brown’s determination was already well-established. His stare bore into the tunnel wall as he prepared to lead his side out. Against a background of those squawking about whether he should be playing or not, he knew he had to deliver. There he was in the warm-up, the only one in a white tee-shirt, as always. While the rest of his teammates wore tracksuits zipped up to their chin, Brown dared the goose-pimples to march up his arm. Rather than concentrate on silly shuttle runs, he spent his entire time hitting 40-yard passes down the touchline. It seemed to underline how, when it comes to Brown, different rules apply.
Some, mostly of the tangerine persuasion, will contend that he shouldn’t have been able to play in any case. His studs up challenge on Nadir Ciftci in the Scottish Cup game was reckoned by many – though, crucially, not the Scottish Football Association’s compliance officer – to have been worth a red card.
There were always going to be vendettas left over from last week. Indeed, Ryan McGowan had gone on national radio and advised Brown to put a lid on it, after he’d accused United of diving in that fiery Scottish Cup clash last Sunday. There was little surprise when the Australian became the first player booked yesterday for a crunching late challenge on, yes, Brown.
Amateur leap readers watching on television later reported something McGowan said about “last week” when complaining to the referee, Bobby Madden. Clearly, he felt that his challenge was no worse than the one Brown made on Ciftci at Tannadice.
This latest week in the life of Scott Brown has done little to harm the legend.
What Gordon Strachan has to say on the matter today when naming his squad for next week’s Northern Ireland clash will be interesting. But then the Scotland manager has also always stoutly defended Brown.
Even Strachan, another of those managers who has strict views on footballers and alcohol, is hardly going to start criticising him now. In fact, he may likely quip that all players should “do the Broonie”.
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