It feels as if a saga has come to an end with all the associated relief this normally entails.
It is a shame the news Scott Brown’s Scotland career is over should be treated like this because he’s proved a better international player than most would have imagined since making his debut against the United States in 2005.
But nothing was being gained by extending the will he/won’t he debate any longer. Alex McLeish will name his first squad next week for the upcoming friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary and the issue needed to be settled.
Stepping away now feels like the right call; for Brown certainly and perhaps for Scotland. Now 32, Brown will turn 34 during the Euro 2020 finals. A “new” manager in McLeish is seeking to freshen up a squad that under Gordon Strachan, his predecessor, has failed to qualify for three finals. The tread of failure stretches back farther, of course.
Brown will never play for Scotland at the finals of a major tournament. It’s something he probably reconciled himself to when he retired originally so it should not be hard to process now.
He’s added five more caps since he first announced his retirement in August 2016. Brown had already earned his 50th cap so it wasn’t through vanity that he returned. Rather, it was a genuine desire to support Strachan, his mentor. But Brown was not able to help Scotland over the line in their bid to qualify for the World Cup finals.
It’s a case of wondering what might have happened had he played in the final, must-win qualifier against Slovenia. In view of his performance on Sunday, when leading Celtic to a 2-0 win in a tricky fixture at Pittodrie, it’s tempting to think he might have made the difference as Scotland sought, unsuccessfully in the end, to defend a 2-1 half-time lead in Ljubljana.
But he and Stuart Armstrong were sidelined through injury and his farewell, the final farewell it seems, will stand as Scotland’s 2-0 victory over Malta in September. His penultimate match was the impressive 3-0 win in Lithuania, when qualification suddenly seemed possible again.
If ever he wonders whether it was worth coming out of retirement then he might reflect on a memorable day against England in June. Brown helped set the tone for an evening when Hampden was re-born and Scotland snatched a draw from the jaws of victory when he crashed into Dele Alli to earn a booking after just two minutes.
It meant he had to last another 88 minutes without picking up another caution but the impression was set; Scotland were not going to be pushed over on their own patch. And so it proved, even if the final whistle was met with a deep sense of deflation.
Brown did not always conform to everyone’s idea of how a captain should act. But it’s amusing to recall the look on the faces of English reporters on the day before the friendly with England at Wembley in 2013. The fixture had just been exhumed and nostalgia was in the air. Brown was named skipper and it seemed too good to be true to have someone who grew up in Hill of Beath, birthplace of Jim Baxter, leading Scotland out.
“People back home are always talking about how he juggled the ball at Wembley in ’67 – though don’t hold your breath for me doing the same,” quipped Brown. “I’ve got enough trouble passing the ball five yards, never mind playing keepy-up!”
He spent the press conference simply being Scott Brown. At a time when everything, including a lot of footballers’ interviews, is so tightly controlled and made bland, it was thrilling to see someone say it as it was.
But it’s Brown the footballer who will be most missed by Scotland, a footballer who unlike so many of his peers, manages to make the best of himself.
It’s Scotland’s loss that he will continue doing so only for Celtic. But it’s best to start learning to cope with life without Broonie sooner rather than later.