A trope as well as a team was slain when Scott Brown produced one of his man-possessed moments to drag Celtic to an added-time victory over Hamilton on Wednesday night.
The 34-year-old’s refusal to accept that a faultless two-month record for Neil Lennon’s men had been ended by Accies’ 90th-minute equaliser inspired a run and goal all about sheer bloody mindedness just so typical of him. And it demonstrated he possesses an ability to influence football games quite unlike any other player currently eligible to represent Scotland.
The latest example in a season bursting with them of Brown’s almost supernatural force of will could only but prompt reflections on a largely dismissive reaction that followed the Celtic captain hinting the other week he could be tempted out of international retirement for the country’s Euro 2020 play-off. Scotland boss Steve Clarke was later revealed to have held discussions with Brown to that end.
Scotland are well catered for in midfield, was the shoulder-shrugging response in many quarters. The burgeoning talents of such as Ryan Jack and Scott McTominay would only be stifled were Clarke to turn to the veteran, was the meh retort from others occupying the unenthusiastic camp.
It may, though, be best to listen to Lennon on what Brown could offer Scotland, and what he has given to Celtic in a period of astonishing domestic supremacy that will see them pursuing a tenth straight major honour when they square up to Rangers in Sunday’s League Cup final.
“A modern day great”, the Celtic manager called Brown this week. To which he could easily have added: at the peak of powers that seem to have breached previous limitations.
Scotland simply do not have a figure with the inspiring presence to draw up on their boot-heels those around them in the absolute white heat of football battle. The nation is desperate for Scotland to have the best possible chance of ending a 22-year exile from a major finals. No-one more so than Clarke. And that is precisely why he should plead with Brown until he answers in the affirmative about declaring himself available for the Euro 2020 play-off at home to Israel on 26 March. Brown knows he wants to…
If looking for precedent for just how profound his influence could be, consider the last time the midfield orchestrator picked up the baton for his country. When Gordon Strachan implored him to do so in late 2016, Scotland were then gasping through a World Cup qualifying campaign with barely a pulse. He helped revive them to the point where a win in their final group encounter in Slovakia would have secured a play-off. Brown missed that trip with an injury, which not only had a significant bearing on Scotland only managing a draw – it was an outcome that ended qualification hopes, the Strachan era and, it seemed, the player’s 55-cap career.
Brown is a more rounded, smart and dangerous player – seven goals across 2019 his most in a calendar year since he netted eight in 2012 – than he was even back then. It is no coincidence that Sunday’s final provides him the opportunity to claim a 21st winners’ medal of his stellar career.
Brown was all too much of a scuffler and scrapper in his young days, often distracted on the pitch by a desperation to play up to the eye-popping hardman image. Now he can see the game in terms of geometry and timing, occupying and closing spaces even if, off the field, there is still often the desire for devilment. He exited stage left with the declaration it was “time to be offski” when asked the other night if the League Cup decider was the ideal occasion to bag a third goal for Celtic against Rangers.
It was a measure of his maturity that he focused strictly on the mighty edifice he has been one of the main architects in building at the club in the past three years when asked to ruminate on the challenge that will be posed by Steven Gerrard’s side – whether or not Lennon’s men have injury doubt Odsonne Edouard leading the line.
“It’s always going to be hard, no matter who you are playing,” said Brown. “We’ve gone to Hampden, done really well, we’ve struggled in some games where we’ve gone behind, but we’ve always come back. It’s that belief we have. We need to make sure we always have that belief, whether it’s against Hamilton or whoever. We need to keep pressing and play a lot better than against Hamilton. But in a cup final, you never know what can happen. We need to make sure we’re ready and focused.
“We are all very close in the dressing room and we all want each other to win and to play well. When lads are injured, they keep coming along, support the lads and in the changing room they speak to us before the game. That’s what a good squad does.
“And you relish every game. I cherish every single moment being here, especially as I’m getting that little bit older as well. You’ve got to take it all in.”
Brown gives it all out, in a manner that makes him peerless within these borders.