Careers can often be defined by events in major derbies. What unfolded the last time Celtic and Rangers jousted at Hampden, where they will square up this afternoon for the Betfred League Cup semi-final, redefined Scott Brown’s career parameters over the matter of representing his nation.
Brown’s limbs seemed to be rebelling against him as he struggled to get close to opponents as Celtic came off second best to Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-final in April. Troublesome hamstrings led him to conclude he could not longer strap on the armband for both club and country, and in August, fully supported by his new manager Brendan Rodgers, the 31-year-old announced his international retirement.
“That is when I started thinking about Scotland,” said Brown of the Scottish Cup semi-final six month ago. “That’s when I started thinking about not training as much, trying to take time off and look after my body off the park and on the park as well. I needed the five-six weeks just to freeze out and come back fresh.
“International breaks have definitely helped me, I am getting three/four/five days off to let my body totally recover and heal any aches and pains. Then coming back in and it is full throttle again, Saturday, Wednesday for another month. We have got the one in November, got that off then there is a January break as well so it seems to be working quite well.
“You can push yourself for so long. Instead of pushing yourself 80-85 per cent for the whole season. It was becoming like a 12-month season for me because you were away with Scotland then get eight ten days off and then coming back in to Celtic, playing all the time. It wasn’t a drag, but it was a drag on my body.
“I wasn’t fully fit, [that day] that’s for sure. But it was a Rangers-Celtic game and I would have played in that if I was 2 per cent fit. I think every other punter and every other Celtic player would have done the exact same to lead Celtic out in a semi-final. Let’s be honest, we had a lot of chances and could have easily won, they scored a couple of screamers and penalties are penalties.”
Brown has learned lessons, but only to a certain extent. If only 2 per cent now he “would still so it”; still play on such an occasion. “I would give anything to play, I enjoy playing that is why I am still playing just now and it is why I am still at Celtic. I enjoy Celtic and I enjoy playing in these games and I am back playing with a smile on my face. We are in the Champions League, we are in the semi-final of the League Cup and doing really well in the league. If I am not happy now then when am I going to be happy?
“I want to train as much as I can. I know I am not going to be doing this forever and I know I am going to retire in the next five/six/seven/eight years so I might as well start to enjoy it and really focus as hard as I can and play as well as I possibly can.”
Being “under a good manager” in Rodgers who leaves nothing to chance has been central to the Celtic captain’s contentment. “We look at everything and we work on different training pitch dimensions and with different formations, depending on the opposition,” said the midfielder. “His attention to detail is exceptional, I’ve never had a manager who looks at the size of the pitches and everything like he does. He watches teams, he knows how they will play, what changes they will make. He seems to be one step ahead of everyone.”