NEIL Lennon has warned Scott Brown, his captain, to exercise a degree of “self-control” in order to avoid a repeat of the petulance that has been a feature of his game recently.
While the Celtic manager believes that Brown’s offences have been exaggerated, and that it would be a mistake to curb the player’s passion, he would rather there were no more of the controversies that have surrounded him at club and international level.
Brown will be suspended for Celtic’s Champions League match against AC Milan in Glasgow on Tuesday night. The Group H fixture will complete the three-match ban with which he was issued by Uefa after being sent off for kicking Barcelona’s Neymar last month.
The 28-year-old midfielder also attracted the wrong kind of headlines in Molde this week. Despite scoring for Scotland in a 1-0 win against Norway, there was an off-the-ball incident – missed by the referee, but picked up by television – which showed him kicking Vegard Forren, the home side’s centre-half.
Lennon stressed that he had not seen the incident, and that he did not regard it as his business, but admitted that, if it were to happen again with Celtic, he would take the matter up with his captain. Until then, it was Brown’s responsibility to control his emotions.
“It is unnecessary and that is something he has to learn himself,” said Lennon. “I can tell him a hundred thousand times not to do it, but he has to find that self-control. He doesn’t need to do it because he is playing so well.
“He is on top of his game but he just likes giving people wee reminders that he is there. If it is within the laws of the game and he is trying to impose himself on an opponent, I haven’t got a problem with it.”
Asked if it was difficult to balance Brown’s temperamental issues with the commitment that makes him such a valuable player, Lennon replied: “It’s not for me to balance, it is for him. I don’t want to lose that devil in him because it is part of his make-up. It is an important part of his make-up. If you take that away, then you end up with a robot.
“He has that drive and that will to win, and sometimes it does spill over. Some top players have that. He just needs to pick and choose his moments and, if he has done something outwith the game, make sure he doesn’t get caught.”
Lennon will not be taking action against his captain. He said that, even if he had seen the latest incident, it would be for Brown and Gordon Strachan, the Scotland manager, to discuss.
“It wasn’t my issue,” said Lennon. “If it happens again, it will be my issue, if he does it with Celtic. I’m not here to bang on about Brownie. If it remains a factor in his game from here on in, then I will deal with it, but at the minute, I don’t need to.
“I’ve already spoken about the Barcelona thing and he knows where I stand on it. I’m expecting him to lead the team as he always does. I don’t want him to lose that little bit of devil because it is an important part of his make-up, but he’s got to do it within the laws of the game.”
Brown’s offence against Norway went unnoticed by most at the match, while his ban for kicking Neymar was extended only after Uefa reviewed the incident. Lennon believes that the player’s crimes have been blown out of proportion, and suggested that other, more famous players, are guilty of worse.
“We’re talking about Scott here, but we also saw a [Cristiano] Ronaldo headbutt [against Sweden on Tuesday night]. Which is more sinister? Even the Scott kick on Neymar, if you want to call it that. Is that more sinister than what Ronaldo did to [Mikael] Lustig? I’m not sure. So even the greatest player, or one of the greatest players in world football at the minute, is prone to losing his temper now and again or losing his self-control.”
Lennon, of course, was not a model of restraint in his days as a player. He admits that he had to rein himself in as he matured, especially during seven years with Celtic, when Martin O’Neill was one of his managers.
“You do that as you get older. A couple of times when I got sent off, Martin made me realise it was a huge mistake. There are times when you get sent off and it’s harsh, but anything that’s over the top or unnecessary…I make it pretty clear to the players that I don’t want to see that again because we pride ourselves on team discipline. And I think our record over the years would prove that.”
Meanwhile, Lennon has responded angrily to suggestions that Tom Rogic, his Australian midfield player, should consider a loan move in order to enhance his prospects of playing in the World Cup finals.
After the completion of the play-offs on Tuesday night, Rogic is one of five Celtic players looking forward to being in Brazil next summer. The others are Georgios Samaras (Greece), Emilio Izaguirre (Honduras), Efe Ambrose (Nigeria) and Fraser Forster (England).Whether Rogic will be sharp enough to take part is another matter. Ange Postecoglou, the Australia coach, said that the 20-year-old, who has made only five starts for Celtic since joining them in January, needed more game time, and that he should consider a temporary move elsewhere.
Postecoglou even suggested a possible destination. He said that it would be “fantastic” if Rogic moved to Vegalta Sendai, a Japanese club where Graham Arnold, who was the player’s manager at Central Coast Mariners, is in charge – all of which has irritated Lennon.
Asked whether a loan move was a possibility for Rogic, he replied: “Well, that would be my decision. I don’t need other managers to tell me how to manage my players, and certainly not to come out in public about it. If he is concerned about Tom’s future, then he can pick up the phone and speak to me, and not try to dictate where Tom should go and play his football.
“We paid money for him. We pay his wages. I manage him. I do the best I can with him at the minute.”