Scott Brown was one of the brightest gems in a rich seam of talent mined by Hibs’ youth system almost 20 years ago.
Along with contemporaries like Steven Whittaker, Kevin Thomson, Steven Fletcher, Derek Riordan and Garry O’Connor, he broke into a Hibs first-team set-up which reaped the rewards of shrewd investment in the development of young players.
Celtic captain Brown admits he is saddened to hear of the current threat to the academy at the club where he began his career, with Hibs understood to be considering mothballing it for a year amid financial cuts prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Brown is hopeful it would only be a temporary measure but is sympathetic to the predicament the Easter Road outfit find themselves in.
“It’ll be hard for all the kids who thought they had a chance of moving through the ranks at the club,” said Brown.
“But Hibs need to do what they’ve done in order to survive and the main thing for them is to keep the first team going for as long as they can and try to put out the best squad possible.
“With a little luck, they can try and bring the academy back next year and maybe finishing higher up the Premiership table will give them the money to do that.”
Hibs’ predicament is shared by many clubs as Scottish football finds itself in turmoil ahead of a 2020-21 season currently scheduled to begin with matches behind closed doors on 1 August.
That date could be threatened by the legal action being taken by Hearts and Partick Thistle against the SPFL over their controversial relegations to the Championship and League 1 respectively.
Brown insists he has no issue with the manner in which the Tynecastle club are fighting their corner in a challenging environment which has seen even Celtic, the club with the healthiest pre-pandemic balance sheet in the country, having to implement wage cuts and deferrals among players and staff. “I always have sympathy for players who’ve been relegated and it’s hard for any club, especially in the current climate, because there will be a huge impact on these clubs for going down,” said Brown.
“You don’t want to see them struggling, you want to see everyone in all four leagues getting through this. Hearts are probably just doing what anyone else in their position would have done.
“That’ll be hard for them, because everyone’s talking about budgets and wages being cut for players and staff as well because clubs need to do that in order to survive.
“We’ve played our part in that regard and [chief executive] Peter Lawwell has been unbelievable in the way he’s dealt with the situation and left Celtic in a strong position. We’ve done our bit and everyone was happy to help out.”
Brown has relished Celtic’s return to training as they gear up for a campaign which will see them bid to win a record tenth consecutive Scottish league title.
But he insists their primary focus will be on negotiating a path through the revised qualifying format of the Champions League when they will face single leg fixtures at venues based on the luck of the draw.
“Everyone’s talking about ten-in-a-row but our main aim is to get into the group stage of the Champions League and make sure we have a good start to the domestic campaign as well,” added Brown. “We don’t talk about winning ten-in-a-row because that’s worked well for us in each of the last nine years, so we’ll stick to taking it one game at a time.
“The qualifiers will be one-leg affairs up until the play-offs so that will be different as well. They’ll also probably be behind closed doors plus we’ve still to find out what the script is, whether we’ll play these ties away from home or at a neutral venue. So it’s tricky but we’re looking forward to them and we’ll play it by ear.
“We should also have a couple of league games under our belt before we start the European matches, which is unusual for us but, hopefully, we can hit the ground running.”
Brown will celebrate his 35th birthday this week and is going into the last year of his contract at Celtic. But he insists he has no plans to try and ease his workload amid what is likely to be a hectic schedule in 2020-21.
“I haven’t spoken to the gaffer about that in depth,” he said. “So far, it’s just been business as usual, training as hard as I can and trying to get myself as fit as possible. As long as I’m available for selection, it’s then up to the manager and the backroom staff as to whether or not I play every game or whether I’m a bit-part player. But I’ll make sure that I’m always here, willing to train and play.
“Obviously, I want to be in their plans and play in every game but time may tell. Right now, though, I’m enjoying it and feeling fit and as good as I’ve ever done so maybe the rest has helped me. It’s a bit like the international breaks in recent seasons.
“I loved playing for my country and captaining Scotland but it was the right time for me to call it a day. I do miss playing for the national team but at some stage you have to take care of yourself and look after your legs and I’ve definitely benefited from having those days off while the other lads have been away in the last few years.”
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