Scott Brown: Why Celtic won’t take anyone for granted in Euro draw

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Since he joined Celtic back in 2007, Scott Brown has seen the landscape of Champions League qualification change radically.

The heady days of an automatic place in the group stage for Scotland’s champions, at a time when the country’s coefficient ranking was still high enough to earn such a reward, are becoming an ever 
distant memory.

Celtic now have to negotiate four qualifying rounds if they want to take their place among Europe’s elite. They will discover their first opponents today when the draw takes place at Uefa HQ in Nyon.

One of the seeded sides, Celtic are likely to face a trip to eastern Europe after Uefa announced the groupings for the draw. Of the five possible opponents for Celtic, four are from eastern Europe–- Sarajevo (Bosnia), Sutjeska (Montenegro), Partizani (Albania) and Saburtalo (Georgia). The other side Celtic could face are Maltese champions Valletta. Regardless of who they are paired with, Brown knows Neil Lennon’s side cannot take anything for granted as they prepare for their now familiarly early return to competitive action with the first leg of their opening tie on 9 or 10 July.

“We’ve been everywhere over the last few years,” reflected Brown. “At this stage of the competition, it doesn’t really matter.

“It would be great to have somewhere more local but I don’t think that will 
happen.

“For me, you always have to think about that game in Gibraltar three years ago when Lincoln Red Imps beat us to know that even the first round can be awkward. Everyone thought we would go over there, win 6-0 – nice and easy. But we played in 35 degree heat on possibly the worst pitch I’ve ever played on and lost our first game under Brendan Rodgers.

“No-one that day, even in our wildest dreams, would have thought we would go on to stay unbeaten domestically for the rest of the season.

“So, you always have to make sure you respect the opponent and do your background on them. It’s difficult to have these games so soon, especially for new players coming to the club. They come in and are like ‘two or three weeks’ holiday? We should be getting eight’

“That’s Scottish football now because our seeding level isn’t as good as it used to be. We’ve got to deal with the four qualifying rounds until Uefa change their mind.

“When I first signed for Celtic, we went straight into the group stages in one of my first seasons. We didn’t always have qualifiers. But then there was always at least a couple of qualifiers, then three and gradually it’s got up to four games to get there. Maybe it’s me – maybe they don’t want me in the Champions League!”.

Brown believes the appointment of Lennon as permanent manager is a boost to their Champions League hopes, given his experiences first time around which included leading Celtic to the last 16 in 
2013.

“Yeah, he knows what it’s all about,” added Brown. “The play-off round tie against Karagandy six years ago comes to mind for me. I remember we lost 2-0 in the first leg away from home and the manager then dropped Virgil van Dijk for the second leg which we won 3-0. He can make big decisions.

“He has been phenomenal since he came back to the club. He had two trophies to win and won them both.

“He got the job done and everyone in the changing room was delighted for him. The fans know his passion and love for the club.

“It’s great for me as well. I know him. I trust him with my life, especially going into big games where you have to 
battle.

“Sometimes a new manager comes in with totally fresh ideas and wants to change everything in two-and-a-half weeks.

“We’re going away to Austria next week. We’ll play three friendlies, then come back straight into Champions League qualifiers.

“There’s not too much time to change too much. He knows what he needs to do – who he wants to bring in – and I’m sure he’ll do that in time He’ll make sure he’ll get the right players and not to dive in at the deep end.

“To be fair, he’s had a great eye for players in the past and I’m sure he’ll do the same again.”