For a significant number of Celtic supporters, Scott Brown has become part of the problem when assessing their club’s regression on the European stage over the past two years.
The captain is firmly established among the fixtures and fittings at the Scottish champions but in the eyes of many, his contributions on the field have been increasingly shopworn.
Brendan Rodgers admits he had formed his own opinion of Brown’s limitations as a midfielder before becoming Celtic manager this summer.
That view, however, has been altered significantly in the few weeks Rodgers has spent working one-on-one with the 31-year-old. As the former Liverpool boss seeks to guide Celtic back into the group stage of the Champions League for the first time in three years, he now has no doubts that Brown remains very much part of the solution when it comes to restoring the club to that level. Ahead of tonight’s third qualifying round, second leg showdown with Astana at Celtic Park, Rodgers even went as far as to compare Brown with his ex-skipper at Anfield, both in terms of influence and in being a lightning rod for supporters’ discontent.
“When someone loves a team or a club so much as Scott does and puts everything into that club, he is normally the one who bears the brunt of it,” said Rodgers.
“I saw that with Steven Gerrard. Everything Steven did at Liverpool, there were still times when he bore the brunt of it. But thankfully he has a strong character as does Scott.
“Mentally he is very good and knows he has a big responsibility here as one of the main pillars of the club. He is very similar to Steven. They want what is best for their club. Scott’s ambition is for the club, not for himself. That’s what you find in these types of players – they are not selfish.
“Everything they do is based around what’s best for the team and they put themselves secondary to that. Steven, like Scott, was a wonderful ambassador for his club. In the changing room they are very strong, they are able to lead. I always say that is key for the manager.
“It’s not what the players do when they are with you – it’s what they do when they are not with you. You need your lieutenants in there who can control that and certainly Scott is one of them.
“He has really impressed me tactically in the work I’ve been looking for the team to do. He has shown me over the course of pre-season that he can play as a controller.
“He has shown elements of his game that I probably didn’t think he had, to be honest. My perception of him was obviously from afar.
“The kid has been a runner all his life, ever since he broke into the Hibs team at 17. Then I came up against him in a friendly or two and could see he had a real aggressive streak, which I love. But my perception was based on only seeing him in a few big games for Celtic and Scotland.
“Now I’m working with him, I can see he is in great shape. Physically he looks really good. Tactically, the concepts in the game I have asked him to do – and I’ve looked at him in a couple of positions – he has surprised me how quickly he has picked it up.
“Sometimes players get labelled quickly, such as being athletic and then people just focus on his running. But can you develop on the tactical side of the game? From what we have given them so far, which has been a lot, he is tactically very astute. He probes into spaces, fills gaps both with and without the ball.
“His passing is good and he can open it up at times. Of course, like any player it could be better. But he can play it long, short or split the game.
“He is great in the element I love, which is the pressing game. He can really drive the team, hunt and press. Then he has the calmness to make the first pass when he wins it. So he has really impressed me.
“I also have to say he is a wonderful guy. He has an old school mentality where he leads the team. He supports the manager in everything you do. Maybe it has refreshed him, I hope it has, in terms of everything we are trying to give him. At 31, he can move into an exciting part of his career where tactically he has a better knowledge of the game where he can perform to another level.”
Brown and his team-mates will kick-off from a winning position in the tie tonight, the away goal claimed by Leigh Griffiths in last week’s 1-1 draw in Kazakhstan having provided them with the initiative.
Rodgers will urge his players to try and find a combination of composure and aggression in their approach to seeking a place in Friday’s play-off round draw. “We understand the magnitude of the game, but it’s important we stay calm,” he said. “It’s a different game to last week, we will be on the front foot from the first whistle with the support behind us.
“The players go into it with confidence, because they really enjoy coming into Celtic Park right now. The crowd for the last qualifier against Lincoln Red Imps here was incredible when you think of where it’s at at this stage of the competition. So I have found a real sense of the players really looking forward to playing at home.
“I think the players are ready for this one. We just need to ensure we stay calm and play with passion and heart, but also the tactical notion to win the game.”