Scott Brown targets treble and UCL group stage

SCOTT BROWN has laid his cards on the table ahead of the new Scottish football season by insisting it is his burning ambition to lead Celtic to a clean sweep of the domestic honours and once again sample the sumptuous fare of the Champions League.

Celtic now have to battle through three qualifying rounds just to reach the group stages of the Champions League. Picture: Robert Perry
Celtic now have to battle through three qualifying rounds just to reach the group stages of the Champions League. Picture: Robert Perry

The Celtic captain, who turned 30 last week, has an impressive curriculum vitæ having won five titles and the Scottish Cup and League Cup on two occasions in seven and a half years at Parkhead.

He is closing in on 50 caps for the national team, which he also skippers, and has faced some of the greatest players in the world in Uefa’s elite club competition.

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However, he wants the treble and he believes the current Celtic team is capable of achieving this aim, matching the feats of Martin O’Neill’s 2000/01 squad and Jock Stein’s nine in a row men who did it twice – in 1966/67 and 1968/69.

The events of last season have only intensified his desire and Brown remains angry that a refereeing mistake contributed to the failure to win all three honours when none of the officials spotted Josh Meekings’ hand ball in the Scottish Cup semi-final with Inverness Caley Thistle.

Brown said: “The one ambition I have left at Celtic is to get the treble. Everyone talks about it, we were so close last year, and it would be great to do it.

“One decision pretty much cost us a cup final place last season when we would have had the chance to do it.

“The semi-final still sticks in my mind. There were five officials and none of them saw it. It’s amazing, that. But five of them had a view. Brilliant.

“I think it was just hard to take. Especially with the decision because we would have gone in 2-0 up at half-time if we had scored the penalty. They would have been down to ten men and it would have changed the game.

“But these things happen and you have to deal with it. We are getting closer but we need to really go for it next year.

“It’s going to be hard to win the games in the two cup competitions but I think we have the players in that dressing room who can do it. I think if everyone believes then we can definitely push ourselves a little bit closer.”

There would be undoubted glory if Brown’s ambition is realised but he knows that reaching the group phase of the Champions League is equally important from a financial point of view.

He cut a frustrated figure last season as he nursed a hamstring injury while Celtic made a mess off qualification – twice – being reinstated after Legia Warsaw were found guilty of fielding an ineligible player only to be knocked out by Maribor.

The remarkable scenes two years ago when James Forrest scored in injury time to defeat Shakter Karagandy 3-2 on aggregate are compelling evidence of how much it means as Neil Lennon jumped on a pile of celebrating Celtic players.

Brown said: “It was like winning the World Cup because it meant so much to the players, the fans and everyone at the club.

“It puts a smile on everyone’s faces right from the start of the season. You want to play against the best players in the world and that’s where this club should be.

‘It would just be great to get back into the Champions League again. It’s going to be hard.

“We’ve got three qualifiers to get through after just a couple of weeks off. But we are coming back fit, which is a good thing. It’s always hard to play catch-up on other teams who are two, three, four weeks ahead in terms of their pre-seasons or preparations – especially teams from Scandinavia.

“Hopefully, though, we have that extra little bit of quality on the ball and that will get us through.

Celtic begin their preparations for the first qualifier against Icelandic side Stjarnan tomorrow night with the first of three friendlies at St Mirren Park when they take on Dutch side Den Bosch.

Brown added: “It was difficult for a new manager coming in last season because he needed to give everyone a chance to find out the ones he wanted to keep and the ones he wanted to bring in.

“I think he did that really well. The first three or four weeks were difficult and I am sure he wouldn’t have expected it to be as full on as it was.

“It’s two weeks and you are straight in to it. You need to be mentally strong and hopefully get through that first tie and then you have another few weeks for the other qualifiers.

“If we get to that last qualifier that’s when you hit your peak fitness.”