It would be naive of anyone to underestimate the influence of Brendan Rodgers on Scott Brown’s decision to turn his back on international football for a second and, almost certainly, final time.
Since becoming Celtic manager in the summer of 2016, Rodgers has dramatically revitalised the physical capacity and performance levels of a player whose career and influence appeared to be irretrievably on the wane at that time.
Brown appreciates better than anyone the part Rodgers has played in extending his potential longevity as the captain and heartbeat of the Scottish champions.
So while it was primarily the 32-year-old’s call as he announced yesterday he would no longer be available for selection as Scotland embark on a fresh era under returning boss Alex McLeish, the views of Rodgers on the situation would have weighed heavily in Brown’s mind.
Under contract at Celtic until the summer of 2019, Brown has now made a career choice which Rodgers feels can stretch his highly decorated time at the club even further.
“Scott and I spoke briefly about it,” said Rodgers. “It’s been several months since he last played for Scotland but this choice was always going to be down to Scott and now we can move forward.
“I’ve always got an opinion on it but ultimately it had to be down to him. He spoke to Alex McLeish, as I did as well, so they are in agreement and at least now they can move forward together and Scott can celebrate a great history of playing for Scotland.
“Probably this last 20 months has really highlighted to Scott the importance of proper rest and recovery. For me, if you want to be a top-class footballer you have to eat, breathe and sleep football. It’s more than just pulling on a jersey; you need to devote your life to it.
“And, especially for older players, you don’t want to reach that stage in your career when you go out there and feel leggy for your national team and leggy for your club side.
“At that stage of your life and your career you have to make a decision. Scott has been brilliant in my time up here but I think he realises the demands from last season, when we virtually then came straight into this one and we’re now on course to play 60 competitive games this season with internationals on top – that’s a huge demand on a player.
“He’ll be 33 in June. I’ve always felt if he managed his fitness he could go on for a number of years but he knows there has to be a sacrifice somewhere. He is just an outstanding competitor and this decision will keep his career going here for a few years.”
Brown is on course to lead Celtic to a seventh consecutive title win after Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Aberdeen at Pittodrie. It was an occasion in which he was very much in the heat of the battle and happy to mockingly celebrate in front of the home support after springing to his feet following a wild challenge by Sam Cosgrove which led to the Dons debutant being sent off.
“Scott comes in for a lot of abuse from fans of other clubs but everybody would want him in their side if they could,” insists Rodgers.
“Because, if you’re going to war, he’d be the first man you’d pick. It’s been very clear to me in my time up here why he’s been such a great player for Celtic, because great players make the other ones better and that’s what he does. That’s always the mark of great players and he’s a been a great player for Celtic and he’s also shown that with Scotland, over these last number of years when he’s had that influence.
“He revels in it, he just loves it. Was it last year that he stood up on the advertising boards at Ibrox? He’s just a big player. He’s happy in that. When it gets tough like when we go down to ten men, you talk about really seeing your players then. He’s a brilliant captain, a great leader and a fantastic player. I think he was just happy he could get up after that tackle on Sunday. The adrenaline was obviously going. It was a funny moment in the season.
“The more that people come after him, the more he brings his game up. That’s the worry for other teams. He’s so competitive. He is up for every single game. When you play so many games, sometimes you detect a bit of tiredness in players, if you have to go away to Inverness or Dingwall, or whatever. No, not with him – it’s always like the first day of pre-season.
“He’s on it and that gets the other players on it. It was also good to see the reaction of our players on Sunday, to support him. We have a very young side but they realise what Scott does for them. When he needed that support, they were all there for him.”
Celtic return to action at home to Dundee tomorrow night with winger Patrick Roberts back in the squad and January signing Marvin Compper also available to make his debut after injury. Kristoffer Ajer will have the head injury he suffered against Aberdeen assessed today.