Injuries sustained in Celtic’s 3-0 Champions League away win against Anderlecht have led to Brown and Armstrong being ruled out of today’s home match against Hibernian and the must-win Scotland encounters at home to Slovakia on Thursday and in Slovenia three days later.
The loss of captain Brown and Armstrong, whose elevation to the international domain has coincided with a revival for Scotland in Group F, represents a huge blow for Gordon Strachan. The national manager is likely to turn to deposed captain Darren Fletcher and James Morrison to fill the gaps created by the unavailability of the Celtic pair. Rodgers, too, may also be required to find alternatives for his club’s next Champions League assignment.
The away game against Bayern Munich on 18 October may be too early to expect returns for Brown, sidelined through an old hamstring problem, and Armstrong, who damaged his ankle in the warm-up in Brussels the other night.
“We would hope [if they are not back by Bayern], then certainly by the Hibs [League Cup] semi-final [on 21 October]. I’m obviously disappointed for them, on both fronts really. The frustration in it is that they are not like six-week injuries either. They are injuries which are probably a few weeks, all being well. It’s just absolutely so unlucky for us and their availability for tomorrow but also for Scotland, which is a huge loss.”
Rodgers pointed to the squad rotation he has constantly employed within his front six as reason for hoping he could ensure that Brown and Armstrong were available for both club and country at this pivotal point in the season.
“We have played a lot of games and people wonder why you make changes but you’re always trying to manage the availability of a player. Someone like Browny is better in rhythm, so the more games he plays the better he is and his body is used to it. Guys like Stu you see becoming a full international now, that’s not just a physical loading on him but a mental loading as well. I’ve tried to manage that since the summer really, because of so many games. You take him out against Dundee and play him against Rangers, give him a breather for part of the game against Anderlecht, that was the plan, to then introduce him when the game opens up a bit, knowing he could then play at the weekend and be ready for the two Scotland games. Stuart just felt it in the warm-up and then he tried in the game to go out and warm-up but it was too stiff. Browny is a recurrence of an injury he had maybe 18 months ago at the top of his hamstring. It’s really unfortunate.”
All the more so because Scotland’s fortunes matter to Northern Irishman Rodgers.
“First, [they matter because] I see what it means to the players,” said Rodgers, who still has four Celtic players in the squad. “When I speak with the players all the Scotland boys want to go with Scotland. That’s not always the case at international level. I’ve had experiences in my managerial career where players don’t want to go with their countries. But all the boys want to go with Scotland. They enjoy the environment they are in with Gordon, Mark [McGhee] and the staff, and secondly they are very patriotic. And of course when there is an influx of them there you want them to do well because they are representing their club side as well.”