SCOTLAND assistant manager Mark McGhee admits to drawing a sharp intake of breath when he heard that Scott Brown had limped out of Celtic’s league game against St Johnstone on Saturday with a knee injury.
Happily for all concerned, Brown is expected to be fully fit for the crucial Euro 2016 qualifier against Georgia in Tbilisi on Friday, despite sitting out the first day of training with Gordon Strachan’s squad yesterday.
But it is a measure of how influential the Celtic captain has been for his country during this campaign that the fear of losing his services should induce such a sense of dismayed panic among the coaching staff.
“No disrespect to any other player,” said McGhee, “but there are some within the squad that we would think ‘that’s a shame’ if they were out injured. There are some, though, where you think ‘Oh my God, we do not want to be without him’ and Scott has become one of those players for us.
“I was in my car when I heard about his injury on the radio and I was immediately phoning anybody and everybody to try and find out how he was. But it seems he is going to be fine, which is great, because he is one of the first names on the team sheet for us.
“He didn’t train on Monday and I’m not sure he will train on Tuesday, but I don’t think we have any fears he won’t be alright for Friday.
“He has been fantastic for us. It’s an area of the pitch where we have a lot of strength in depth and there are some good midfield players not even in the squad. But Scott has proven over the games in this campaign that he brings such major assets to us.
“His character lifts the rest of the squad and he seems to look after two or three opposition players at the same time. He does the job of more than one man at times.”
McGhee believes that Brown may be going into the match in Georgia and then next Monday’s Hampden showdown with Germany with even more intense levels of motivation than he normally possesses.
Last week, Brown suffered one of the biggest disappointments of his career when he was part of Celtic’s tame elimination from the Champions League, prompting McGhee to suggest he will see the chance of making it to next year’s Euro 2016 finals in France as potential compensation.
“Knowing Scott, as well as his Celtic team-mates, Charlie Mulgrew and James Forrest, those boys will be a bit embarrassed by what happened last week.
“No disrespect to Malmö, but Celtic will be embarrassed to lose the way they lost. So Scott will absolutely want to get something back from this, and it is a great opportunity for the Celtic lads to rise above it.”
With qualification rivals Germany, Poland and Republic of Ireland having all won in Tbilisi already in Group D, there is a “must-win” feel to Friday’s assignment at the Boris Paichadze Arena in the view of many observers.
“To qualify automatically as one of the top two, it could be a must-win,” said McGhee. “But I’m not sure.
“I can sit and illustrate different permutations, all of which are believable, including Germany drawing with Poland, Germany beating Poland or Poland beating Germany in their match in Frankfurt on Friday.
“We can perm any results from it and there are different ways we can qualify. The thing that remains the same is that we have a game on Friday against Georgia, and we give ourselves a better chance of qualifying if we beat them.
“I spoke to some of the guys from the Irish camp a week or so ago and they were describing how difficult a game it was for them in Tbilisi and how fantastic a result it was to win over there.
“We should be under no illusions it’s going to be a really difficult game. Georgia are far from being an Andorra or something like that.
“We are going to have to be at our absolute best to win the game. If we do win it, we can be very pleased with ourselves.
“If we are going to hypothesise, let’s hypothesise that we beat Georgia 5-0. You can look at it any way you choose. There is a game there to be won on Friday night and we have a good set of tools to try and do that. Georgia are going to have to play really well to beat us.
“I also talked to people in Germany this week and the feeling is that Germany are not in good condition. There is a feeling the players they are relying on are not in good form. They are worried Poland could beat them on Friday.
“I don’t know where that would leave us – we would maybe have to beat Germany. So I don’t know what the best result for us would be.
“All we can affect is winning our game. If we win on Friday, regardless of the result in Germany, it will still come down to the game against Poland at Hampden in October.”
One of the biggest selection calls for the Scotland management this week will be the choice between Steven Fletcher and Leigh Griffiths for the central striker role.
McGhee admits that Griffiths’ improvement in carrying it out for Celtic this season makes him a serious contender to current first-choice Fletcher who is no longer a regular starter at Sunderland.
“Leigh is better equipped for the job of leading the line now,” said McGhee. “After he did it for us against Croatia previously, we spoke to him about things that were required differently. He learned from that game.
“I have seen a marked improvement in Leigh and his runs. I’ve spoken to him about the source of it and he’s told me what he’s been asked to do by the Celtic coaches. It has resulted in him becoming a better player.
“He has moved up a notch in terms of possible starters for our team. He has to be realistically considered.
“Gordon will consider his strengths. There are certain assets we might require away from home that we might not require at home or that Celtic might require from Leigh every week.
“I remember Sir Alex Ferguson once having a choice between signing Andy Cole or Stan Collymore for Manchester United.
“He told me he was going to buy Cole because United were a team that played in the opposition box. They didn’t counter attack. If they were a counter-attacking team, he would have bought Collymore.
“Maybe Fletcher and Griffiths are the Cole and Collymore for us. Gordon and the rest of us will have to decide which strengths we need for the game in Georgia.”