CELTIC captain Scott Brown is poised to deliver a significant boost to both club and country by returning to action a month ahead of schedule tomorrow.
The midfielder has been sidelined since early July when he sustained a severe hamstring injury during a pre-season fixture with the Scottish champions against Rapid Vienna.
Brown was initially expected to be out of action for at least three months but his recovery has accelerated in recent weeks and he is now ready to make his comeback in tomorrow’s Premiership fixture against Aberdeen at Celtic Park.
The 29-year-old’s availability will help counter some negative news on the injury front for Celtic manager Ronny Deila, who has revealed Charlie Mulgrew may need surgery on a knee injury he suffered during Scotland’s 2-1 defeat against Germany in Dortmund on Saturday. It looks certain to rule Mulgrew out of the start of Celtic’s Europa League group stage campaign against Red Bull Salzburg in Austria next Thursday.
Brown’s return to fitness, however, should strengthen Celtic for that test. It will also be welcomed by Scotland manager Gordon Strachan who had expected to be without Brown once more for the crucial Euro 2016 qualifying double header against Georgia and Poland next month.
“Scott looks very well and he could maybe play on Saturday,” said Deila. “We have been talking about the new signings who have joined the club, but to also get injured players back is great news.
“Everybody knows how important Scott is to this team. He looks good and needs minutes under his belt. It’s tough to get players the minutes they need at the top level to get their fitness back. But when we do that, I see a very good Celtic team.
“Scott is training with the team well now. It’s really positive and his body is improving quick, so that’s good.
“But Charlie is struggling with his knee now. I don’t know how long he is going to be out. That’s not positive. It could be some weeks. He has a meniscus problem and it could need surgery, but I hope we don’t need to do that.”
Deila was able to share a lighter moment with Mulgrew following the international break when they compared notes on the Celtic manager’s compatriot, referee Svein Oddvar Moen, who sent off the midfielder in the closing stages of Scotland’s loss in Dortmund. “Charlie didn’t know he was Norwegian,” smiled Deila. “I told him I knew him well – he cost me a lot of points when I was a manager in Norway! At least he gave Charlie a bit of a rest at the end of the game, but I wish he’d done it before he got injured.”
Deila also reported a productive discussion with Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk as the Celtic first team squad reconvened at Lennoxtown.
Left out of Celtic’s last game at Dundee two weeks ago in the wake of the club’s refusal to sell him in the closing days of the transfer window, Van Dijk was called into the senior Netherlands squad for the first time.
Deila says that has softened the blow of being denied a move to the English Premier League and insists he has no worries over the 23-year-old’s continuing commitment in a Celtic jersey.
“I spoke to Virgil today and he’s very happy now,” said Deila. “He’s just become a dad and he’s been with his national team for the first time.
“He was a little bit disappointed for a couple of days after the window closed. People want things and he was thinking he had the opportunity to go to the English Premier League.
“But that wasn’t possible and he knows now that he has a lot of challenges here as well. He is a very important player for Celtic and he has to take it as a positive. The way I saw him in training today, he has taken it fantastically well.
“There was an opportunity to leave, but then he didn’t go. He knows what he has here and he is looking forward to the rest of the season.
“There was interest in him but it was not even close to what we are thinking about. Also, we were not interested in selling him anyway. He is one of the players we are going to build a new team around.
“He has to understand how important he is. He is such an unbelievably good player for us. That’s something he has to be glad about. We would have said ‘Go away, we don’t want you’. That would have been worse.
“No, he hasn’t said anything to me about speaking about it again in January. Again, you can never plan in football. Tomorrow, he could be injured or he could start playing fantastic and become a regular in the national team for Holland.
“He has things to work on to get improvement. He played well against Maribor, the standard he played was Champions League level. That’s why he was picked for Holland. So if he continues that, he will get chances.
“He said that to me as well, that if he plays good matches for Celtic, he will get opportunities.
“I have no concerns about his commitment. I can honestly say I’m really happy about his situation and have no concerns. I can see his body language and he is happy. Now he is focused on getting good results with Celtic and getting better.
“I hope the supporters accept that as well.
“I understand they were not happy he didn’t play at Dundee, but that was also my decision. Virgil was not 100 per cent in his head. But now he is.
“He has said to me that he is so grateful to be at this club. Without the chance to play for Celtic, he wouldn’t be where he is today. So he is also grateful for that.”