WHEN Scott Brown received a call to his room shortly after lunchtime yesterday, ordering him to report to reception at Scotland’s plush 19th century manor house hotel base on the outskirts of Aberdeen, the prospect of being named captain was among the furthest thoughts from his mind.
“I was wondering what it was all about,” he smiled. “I was thinking ‘it’s not Boozegate again, is it?’! I was fine last night!”
Brown’s reference to the notorious incident at the Cameron House Hotel on Loch Lomond almost four years ago, which ended the Scotland career of Barry Ferguson and fatally undermined the managerial tenure of George Burley, may have been made in jest.
He was among the group of players who began that infamous drinking session on their return from a World Cup qualifying defeat in the Nethetlands, but retired to his room before the drama and scandal which ensued. But his recalling of it was an appropriate reminder of how dramatically Brown’s stature has been altered in recent seasons. From being routinely portrayed as a hyperactive and incurably immature individual, he has become a successful Celtic captain and will lead his country for the first time in tonight’s Vauxhall Challenge match against Estonia at Pittodrie.
“I honestly didn’t know why I’d been asked to come downstairs from my room and why I was sitting there on my own,” added Brown. “At least it’s for a good thing this time!
“I only found out five minutes before the press conference was due to start. Gordon Strachan just came over to me, said ‘You’re captain’ and then walked away. I had a couple of minutes to think about it before coming here. It’s a great honour.
“I didn’t have a clue I was going to get it. I didn’t even notice Gary Caldwell had gone home today, although it’s been good to miss his banter!
“I thought Kenny Miller or someone like that would get it. I’m delighted. I didn’t even have time to tell my family about it. They probably found out on Sky Sports News.
“This is definitely up there with anything I’ve achieved in my career. This season has been great, getting to the last 16 of the Champions League with Celtic. So for the gaffer to now give me the Scotland captaincy for his first game, I can’t ask for much more.”
Brown accepts his role may be brief, with Caldwell still a strong candidate to lead the team in next month’s World Cup qualifiers against Wales and Serbia in the absence of Darren Fletcher as the Manchester United player recovers from surgery on his ulcerative colitis condition.
“I’ve never been captain of Scotland before at any time, not even for the last few minutes of a game when the armband has been passed on,” said Brown. “I was never captain at under-21 level either.
“It is only for one game just now. I will take it as it comes. Gary Caldwell will come back into the squad next time, so who knows.
“Darren Fletcher is a huge miss, of course, and we all feel for him. We want him back in the squad as soon as possible. We need him back, because he is a great player at one of the best clubs in the world.
“Fletch is a great captain, he has done brilliantly for us, so it’s sad he’s not here. We’ll hold his place until he comes back.
“I’d like to think the boys still look at him as captain. With what he has done in the game, the way he goes about his business, he is the best professional I’ve ever known.”
Brown’s own professionalism is clearly appreciated by Strachan, the man who sanctioned his £4.4 million move from Hibs to Celtic back in 2007.
“My relationship with Gordon is good,” added Brown. “I hadn’t spoken to him for a while, since he went down to England, but he is the same old Gordon. He is happy to be in the job, he enjoys his job. He looks forward to training and he will talk me through what he has learned in the last few years and what has changed as well.
“I’m not sure if it was a good idea or a bad idea for him to pay all that money to sign me from Hibs, but it was very nice of him! He has been a great manager who has taught me a lot. He has taught me responsibility as well. I’ve learned a lot under him, especially football-wise – how to play centre midfield, how to play attacking, how to sit, all the different roles and formations. He has been brilliant for me.”
The Tartan Army will hope Strachan can be just as positive an influence on the flagging fortunes of the national team and Brown revealed that there will immediately be a distinctive change in approach from the tactics used under Craig Levein.
“Gordon wants us to press high up the pitch and put teams under pressure,” said Brown. “He wants us to make the opposition make mistakes, instead of sitting off them more and soaking up the pressure. That’s what we try to do at Celtic, so it comes naturally to a lot of us.
“Hopefully we can get off to a good start under Gordon and see where it takes us. The main thing is to try and win the game and also play well. It’s probably not the best pitch in the world at Pittodrie right now but it will be the same for both teams.
“It’s important to try and get a win to lift the confidence. We’ve not been at our best in the last few games. We have been unlucky as well, we had a lot of chances and just couldn’t kill teams off. We couldn’t get that goal at vital times. Now it is a new era, a new start and hopefully confidence can go sky high. Then we can kick on.
“To be captain for Gordon’s first game is brilliant for me. It’s a similar feeling to when I got the Celtic captaincy. It was great to get the armband at Celtic and hopefully I’ve learned a lot about being captain now.
“It’s hard to be the captain of Celtic. There is a lot of pressure put on everyone. But the lads are brilliant and help me out. Kris Commons and Charlie Mulgrew help me out a lot.
“Hopefully the lads here will help me out, too. Kris and Charlie are here, too, and we have older lads like Kenny Miller, who will definitely help me.
“It’s a good bunch of lads with Scotland, we are all quite close, and it will be good if they can help me out.
“Being captain of Celtic didn’t change me off the pitch, not in the slightest. I get on with it my own way and it seems to be working so far.”