This is the story of two hard, hard men from Fife. The type you’d want on your side, the kind you’d pantomime boo if they were playing for the other lot. They’re hewn from the same rock but right now, ideologically, there’s the width of the kingdom and then some between them.
Craig Levein thinks that Scottish football needs protecting from Scott Brown. Every player, not just his teenage wonderkid Harry Cochrane, injured in a clash with the Celtic captain the other night.
When he heard this, Brendan Rodgers got protective of Brown. He threw his big, fat quilted manager’s coat around his skipper’s shoulders and of course here I’m talking metaphorically because Brendan wouldn’t be seen dead in such a garment. Browny, as he calls him, plays “on the limit”. That’s why he’s so “brilliant” for club and country.
Celtic fans think he’s brilliant. They weren’t sure at first. They wanted him to be Lubo Moravcik, as they do all new arrivals. Then they didn’t think he was captain class. But Broony, as we call him, has worn them down. Ultimately they’ve found his fetchingly cute smile irresistible.
If you can’t hail, hail from the fabled 30-mile radius around Celtic Park any more then it’s important to these supporters that you “get” the club. Brown gets Celtic and won’t let Neymar play-act or Rangers threaten ten-in-a-row and he won’t take too kindly to being “bossed” by a 16-year-old stripling.
Did Cochrane really “boss” Brown in the Invincibles-smashing defeat of Celtic before Christmas? He had a fine game, for sure, but the champions had to suffer a collective failure, turn in a performance of mince for Hearts to win 4-0, and that’s what happened.
Levein said last week that Cochrane had bossed Brown and that the re-match had been about revenge. I’m not sure this kind of boast does a 16-year-old any favours. Rodgers insisted that managers had a “duty of care” to players so young when considering whether to play them in games like Tuesday night. But that care should extend to protecting him with language, not getting too carried away, remembering he’s just a laddie.
Levein is very excited about Cochrane – I get that. I was hugely impressed by his performance in Hearts’ Scottish Cup victory over Hibernian. His coolness in the crash-bang-wallop of the midfield that day was astonishing and you had to remind yourself he’s only 16. And it’s for that reason that Levein should have been more diplomatic than to blurt out this exchange between manager and player as the latter nursed his wounds.
“The good thing is Harry says he’s going to sort him [Brown] next time,” revealed Levein. “What advice did I have for Harry? I said: ‘Go on, son!’”
If Hearts play Celtic again this season, in the cup or the league, you can imagine the silly hype that will be stoked by a revival of these remarks. Cochrane, no matter how assured he is out on the park, doesn’t need that. But, as I say, Levein is wild about Harry; near-orgasmic in fact. He described his performance against Hibs as “out of this world”. Now, Andres Iniesta in his pomp was out of this world; Cochrane is still learning.
Excitement over new young Scottish talent is understandable; goodness me we need that talent. But there’s enough pressure on kids to reach their full potential without an experienced manager announcing that this one fancies a square-go with the undisputed, dead-eye-stare hard man of Scottish football. Was Levein being tongue-in-cheek? Rodgers wondered this. It was put to Neil Lennon that Levein was being tongue in cheek when the Hearts boss talked about “natural order” having been restored in Edinburgh after the derby win. Lennon was raging. “A crock of c**p” he called the Levein pronouncement.
I guess we’re all still getting reacquainted with Craig’s wacky take on life and fitba.
Lennon accused him of “playing to the gallery” with that remark and it’s strange hearing this studious manager use the language of the fans, with “Go on, son!” being another example of this. But he and his club were in need of the good PR the victories over Celtic and Hibs provided and you can understand him getting a wee bit carried away. He certainly looks like he’s enjoying himself now. Becoming manager again wasn’t part of the original plan and for the first few months he appeared awkward. But the opening of the new stand and some good results have brought back the old bullishness and he’s ready for a provocative situation.
He was no respecter of reputations, and by that we mean Old Firm reputations, last time and he still isn’t. I bet he’s not happy about Rodgers’ advice on the line-up he should pick when playing “a Champions League team who are at home”. Possibly he finds the tone patronising.
So, is Brown a law unto himself? Depends, as I say, if he’s for you or against. Hearts fans may be nursing a grievance over Cochrane but there’s social media footage of Tynecastle going mental as John Souttar steamed into Marvin Bartley in that cup tie, a challenge Lennon criticised and which put his man out of the next game. They like a tackle down Gorgie way, too.
Opposing fans shout and scream when Brown picks up a yellow card – ten so far this season – but rarely a red and none do this more loudly than Aberdeen supporters. Once upon a time, though, it was Dons hero Willie Miller who got away with murder.
You have to have played this well, been this dominant, for a long time to earn the position of pre-eminence Brown enjoys. It won’t last for ever and the challengers are circling.
One of them is John McGinn who Rodgers got touchy about after the Hibs-Celtic game at Easter Road, refusing to accept the coming man presented any kind of threat to Brown. A bit behind McGinn is Cochrane who by the way hasn’t been shy of chopping the Hibs man, being very lucky to stay on the park. The boy has the look of Ian Durrant about him before the latter’s injury. It’s going to be fun watching him grow but his manager should tone down the rabble-rousing.