SCOTLAND captain Scott Brown has expressed his dismay at the plight of his former club Hibs and blamed their demise on the lack of game time given to his close friend Kevin Thomson.
One of 14 players released by the Easter Road club in the wake of their weekend relegation from the Premiership, midfielder Thomson made just eight first-team appearances under Terry Butcher’s management.
Brown, in London preparing to lead Scotland into their end-of-season challenge match against Nigeria at Craven Cottage tonight, believes Hibs will come to regret Thomson’s departure.
“Not playing Kevin is the biggest mistake Hibs made,” claimed Brown. “They would 100 per cent not have been relegated if he had played more games. I still can’t believe they have now let him go.
“But Hibs have made their bed and Kevin will get a new club and show what a bad decision this has been.
“Everyone knows how good a player he is. He went back to Hibs and played for nothing at first then got his deal. They were seventh in the table when he was playing week in, week out. It just shows what one or two players can do, especially ones with his experience.
“I couldn’t see Hibs’ relegation coming, I don’t think anyone could. It’s really hard for them. It’s also going to be difficult for them to get back up. The Championship is going to be a tough league next season, with three teams going for two places.”
As he gets set to win his 38th cap for Scotland tonight, Celtic captain Brown has also been reflecting on the change of management at his own club. The 28-year-old was taken aback by Neil Lennon’s decision to step down last week and paid him a warm tribute for the part he played in his development with both club and country over the last few seasons.
“It’s been sad to see him go and all of the players were surprised,” said Brown. “The first I knew of it was when I read it in the papers. We were all hoping he would stay.
“He was amazing for me and helped me become the player I am today, sitting here as captain of Scotland. He turned me into a different player and I enjoyed my time under him.
“He understood where I was coming from, that I want to win every game and win every battle within a game. But he told me to pick and choose my battles, to be more relaxed on the ball.
“When Tony Mowbray was manager, I didn’t know whether I was going to be at Celtic or where I was going to be. I stayed strong and fought through it and, when Neil came in, he was brilliant for me.
“He turned me into the captain I am. I learned on and off the park from him and a manager you can talk to helps an awful lot. His biggest single quality was man-management. You could speak with him about anything and he knew he wasn’t always right and I knew I wasn’t always right in different situations. We came up with a plan. You always trust your manager and he puts faith into you.
“Gordon Strachan is exactly the same with Scotland. You can speak to him and Neil learned a lot from him at Celtic. He knew the mentality Gordon set in stone.”
As he waits to discover who his new club manager will be, Brown is confident Celtic will not be distracted from their priorities next season.
“We have to focus on the Champions League qualifiers,” he said. “Nothing changes. We need to win the league next season and we need to make the group stages of the Champions League. We’ll be back for pre-season and, for us, it’s not about who is going to be the next manager, but making sure we go and do that again and progress.
“It’s huge for the club to get into that top tier of Europe and play the best teams in the world. The qualifiers are life and death for us and it makes the season a lot more exciting if you get into the Champions League.
“We have to take a lot of responsibility for that as players. The new manager may come in and want to change the formation or change the ways, but we know what it is like to go through to these group stages and that is what we have to try and focus on. Whoever comes in will be fine. It’s a great job. It’s up to the board to decide who it is and we have faith in them.”
Brown’s immediate attention is on Scotland’s final warm-up fixture before their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign begins in September. He says the feelgood factor Strachan has restored ensures there is no lack of appetite in the squad for a game at the end of a long domestic season.
“Most of us have had some time off but everyone tries to stay fit these days,” he said. “The training has been really good. The bond of the players is really good and that’s the hardest thing for a Scotland squad, to have a situation where everyone wants to turn up for every game. Everyone wants to join up with the squad, whether they play or not, and the manager’s enthusiasm has a lot to do with that. He loves it and enjoys working with us. His training has been high tempo as usual.
“It’s never a friendly when you play for Scotland. We play to win and we want to play well again. Nigeria are going to the World Cup, so they will be up for the game too.”