Any opportunity for a snook to be cocked proves irresistible to Scott Brown. The personality of the Celtic captain allows for no other way. So it was the other day when the 32-year-old was asked what his PFA Scotland Player of the Year nomination meant to him. A short-listing that could result in tonight’s awards dinner seeing Brown become the only Scot to claim the honour twice.
“Everyone was telling me I was finished a few years ago but I keep bouncing back and proving people wrong,” he said. “That’s put a smile on my face and probably made a few people miserable too.
“Not a lot of things bother me to be honest but I just like putting a wee smile on my own face. I can still go and play 60 games a season at a top-quality standard. I’ve been playing in the Champions League and also the SPFL, dominating games from start to finish.
“When people say that your legs have gone and you’re finished at 30 years old... I turn up and train and I’m fully fit again. I’m still one of the fittest in the team and that’s what keeps me going and feeling as young as I do.”
It was in the dog days of Ronny Deila’s time, across the closing months of the 2015-16 season, that Brown was being presented as a scamp who no longer possessed burl or bite. He appeared lame and indeed as lame as hip problems beset him. It wasn’t just others who wondered about the midfielder’s longevity, he did, in deciding to retire from international football.
“Yes, there were a lot of games [then] I was playing with injuries,” he said. “I played through and that’s always hard work as you want to do the best you possibly can. You try to help the manager out and your team-mates but it didn’t always look great on me.
“I still turned up because I’m willing to play through thick and thin. At the end of the day I should have taken six or seven weeks out. Hindsight is a great thing and we still managed to win the league.”
However, far from being a sign he could be finished, his career was only then about to begin again. That is likely to come into sharp focus today as Brown will be the driving force for his team as they seek the win at home to Rangers that would clinch them a seventh straight title. Brown has worn the armband for every one of these successful campaigns but never with greater distinction than in the past two under Brendan Rodgers, who hasn’t so much reignited the fire in the player as ensured the embers could crackle with a lasting intensity.
“An understanding of the game more than anything,” is what Brown says Rodgers has brought to his game. “It’s not about just bombing on and trying to be a box-to-box player. It’s more about positional sense and understanding how other teams are playing and how we can open them up.”
That has allowed him to turn in what he considers to be the most consistent season of his silverware-strewn career. “That has been the key for myself this season, just to make sure I am injury free and there for selection,” he said. “I think I have only missed one or two games due to suspension.”
Whatever the fluctuations in form or fitness for Brown, the consistent aspect of his career has been accumulating winners’ medals. He has few parallels in the history of the game. This afternoon he will be out to confirm his 15th honour with a Celtic he joined from Hibernian in a £4.4 million deal during the summer of 2007. He did so shortly after his first trophy success, which came with a League Cup final victory for the Leith club. His capacity for collecting badges means that, remarkably, there is only one season in the past 12 that Brown hasn’t pocketed at least one.
With Celtic’s pursuit of back-to-back-trebles now effectively resting on next month’s Scottish Cup final against Motherwell, Brown could be on the threshold of becoming among the leading silverware-snafflers in Celtic’s 130-year history.
“That’s’ why I came to Celtic in the first place to be a winner, and win trophies,” he said. “I had that wee sniff of it at Hibs, winning the CIS Cup. I came to Celtic, won leagues, Scottish Cups and now trebles. You get greedy, you’re hungry and you want more. I want to continue doing it and I still have that drive to win as many trophies as possible before it’s time to call it a day.”
It feels as if Brown’s date with destiny will come in 2021, when, on current trends, there is every possibility he would be the country’s first ten-in-a-row captain were he still wearing the Celtic armband. The club’s seemingly-permanent supremacy provides him the opportunity to be its most decorated performer... if his body holds out, and Celtic offer him a new deal.
“I just concentrate season to season,” he said. “That’s a few years away yet but I feel I can play for another three or four seasons. Whether that’s at Celtic or not… but I would love to stay here for the rest of my career.
“The club has been great for me since I signed. Here’s hoping I can win a lot more trophies before I finish. I still have another year to go so that will take me to 34. I’m in no rush. The club knows I’m going nowhere. There is no rush between me, the manager and Peter [Lawwell, Celtic chief executive]. We will sit down whenever we need to sit down, whether it’s halfway through next season, they know I always want to be here.”
Brown was short-listed alongside John McGinn for this year’s PFA award – with team-mate James Forrest and Kilmarnock’s Kris Boyd the other nominees – and many see the Hibernian dynamo as the natural successor to the Celtic captain, for the champions. Brown’s regard for the talents displayed by McGinn this season extends to giving him his PFA vote but he believes it doesn’t do the 23-year-old justice to constantly present his mini-me – which was last week again the case as Hibs delayed Celtic’s title celebrations with an thunderous 2-1 win over them at East Road.
“A lot of people say that but John is his own player,” Brown said of the parallels drawn between the two. “He is a lot younger than me. I’m totally different – I sit in front of the back four while John bombs forward. He has that energy and drive. If people want to compare us, it’s outrageous.
“[Whether I play with him at Celtic] is for the manager to decide, it’s not for me. We’ve played together for Scotland in a couple of games and done really well.”
“It’s great for me to watch John playing because I get on so well with him. He is a nice honest guy and for me it’s great to see young Scottish players coming through and getting the recognition they deserve. Especially at Hibs too, that puts a smile on my face to see players coming through there.”