As Celtic have struggled to find the kind of form and momentum demanded of them by their supporters this season, one player has had to bear the brunt of their collective discontent.
Such has been the opprobrium heaped upon Stefan Johansen, he even had to endure some fans cheering as he was substituted in the second half of Saturday’s laboured but much-needed league win over Ross County.
The Norwegian international is certainly not the first player to find Celtic Park can be a difficult environment in which to thrive, especially when you become the prime target of the so-called “boo boys”.
But Celtic captain Scott Brown has defended Johansen’s worth to the Scottish champions and has no doubts his midfield team-mate has the required mentality to deal with any criticism which comes his way.
“It is always hard,” reflected Brown. “When you come to big clubs, you have to expect it now and again. Some people love you and some people hate you. It’s part of the baggage.
“Stefan is definitely big enough and ugly enough to take that on the chin. He is a talented boy, he was PFA Scotland Player of the Year last season. That shows you how good a player he is and he has also been linked with moves here, there and everywhere. He is a top player. It’s down to everyone having their own opinion of players. Some people really like him, some don’t.
“It’s the same with myself – they either love me or hate me. You have to take that on the chin and deal with it.
“Stefan goes out there and runs as far as anyone, tackles as much as anyone. He has great quality on the ball. He is a good player for us to have in our team. Everyone deals with it in their own way. Stefan comes in every morning and is cheerful. He’s no different this season than he was last season. So you don’t want to make it too big an issue.”
Following their recent League Cup semi-final defeat by Ross County at Hampden and the 2-1 loss at Premiership title rivals Aberdeen, Celtic have started to steady their ship. After the facile but underwhelming 2-0 Scottish Cup win over Lowland League side East Kilbride at Airdrie, Brown was gratified with Saturday’s league victory over County regardless of the manner in which it was achieved.
“It was just good to get back to winning ways and get a few smiles back on the lads’ faces,” he added.
“The pitch wasn’t the best and it ended up being a battle more than anything. But sometimes you have to win the battle before you can get the ball down and start playing.
“We managed to do that and get three points on the board. That’s the main thing for us just now. Sometimes you need to win ugly and hopefully with better pitches as the season goes on, our performances will also get better.”
Speaking before Aberdeen’s match at Inverness Caledonian Thistle last night, Brown would not be drawn on claims from the Pittodrie club’s defender Shay Logan that everyone in Scotland outwith Celtic supporters wants Derek McInnes’s side to win the title this year. Brown added: “I’d need to ask everyone to find out if that was right, wouldn’t I? That’s a wee bit hard for me to do. Each to their own.”
The Scotland captain was helping launch the 2016 Homeless World Cup which will be held in Glasgow this summer. Up to 100,000 spectators are expected to attend the tournament, with free entry to purpose-built pitches in George Square, from 10 to 16 July.
The annual tournament, which started in 2003, was previously held in Scotland when Edinburgh hosted it in 2005. A total of 51 countries will be represented this year and Brown has accepted a role as official Homeless World Cup ambassador.
“It’s exciting to see the tournament coming to Scotland,” he said.
“I’ve learned in recent years about the impact it has across the world and it’s inspiring and humbling that more than one million people have been able to get their lives on the move because of it.
“Obviously I will be supporting Scotland but I hope the tournament is a brilliant success and that the people of Glasgow come out in their numbers to support it in July.”