IT USED to be said of Bobby Murdoch, and it was almost always true of Henrik Larsson, that when they were playing well, Celtic were playing well.
More and more in recent months, it has become clear that much of the champions’ fortunes depend on Scott Brown, and if the club captain has a good game by his standards, it can be pretty much taken as read that Celtic have done well.
His temper controlled much better, his passing skills now peerless, and his sheer drive and determination as fierce as ever, he is Celtic’s leader on the field, and manager Ronny Deila is hugely pleased that Brown has bought into the changes which the Norwegian is making at Parkhead, which he calls “a culture”.
“The players have to understand what I am talking about,” said Deila. “If you ask the best players in the world, you will find they are always humble and are always wanting to learn. They want to do it every day in training, you can see it in interviews and things.
“You look at Scott Brown… he has those things. Every day in training he gives 100 per cent. He is the role model in the team.
“We have more players like that – Charlie Mulgrew, Mikael Lustig and Stefan Johansen. All those guys are always looking forward and if you get the whole team to go like that, the results will follow.”
Deila is also grateful that Brown is content with his lot at Celtic and shows no inclination to move.
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The manager said: “I think if Scott Brown wanted to move, he would get a lot of clubs (after him). That wouldn’t be a problem, but he is so clear that he wants to stay at Celtic and have his career here. He has signed a new contract.
“He has had options before – I have talked to him about that – but I think he is not sending out a message that he wants to leave. I’m very glad about that.”
Some folk would claim the former Hibs midfielder is lacking ambition, but Deila dismisses such talk. “He plays for Celtic and he wins games,” said Deila. “He plays in the Champions League against the best teams in Europe. He is winning trophies.
“I think a lot of players should go that way and think that way. When you are happy, why should you go to another place to try to do it differently?
“Here, there are always challenges to win because of the expectations.”
If Brown did move, however, it would have to be to one of the biggest clubs down south, though Deila thinks Brown could play anywhere at any level.
Deila said: “I think he could adapt to whatever level he was going to. That’s down to his attitude on the pitch and off the pitch. It is so vital to the team and you can always rely on him.
“He almost never makes a defensive mistake. He is like a dog in the midfield. He chases and if people make mistakes, he is there at once. His presence… every team needs a player like that.”
Is he your leader, Deila was asked.
“He is, and it is important that we are speaking the same language.”
Mikael Lustig was only too happy to echo his manager’s remarks about the Celtic skipper.
“He’s a leader, absolutely,” said Lustig. “He’s been in great for form all my three years here.
“He gives us something that only he can in our squad. It’s hard to put a finger on what it is, but when Scott plays, he’s focused, he’s always there and he has grown as a leader. He is our most important player.”
Lustig showed with two goals in 45 minutes on his return from injury against Motherwell that he might not be an unimportant presence for Celtic himself. He put his goals down to Deila’s “culture” of attacking football by the whole team.
He said: “That is three games in a row now full-backs have scored goals. I don’t think we are going to score in every game, but it is always nice to feel like you have the opportunity to go forward. I have to give a big hand to Brown and my other team-mates because if you go, you know they are going to cover up. We are quite happy they are there.”
Today’s lunchtime match against Ross County on the face of it should be a formality for the champions against the Premiership’s bottom club, but with the League Cup semi-final against Rangers only a week away, the players are playing for their places in the big one.
“When we drew them we were talking about it,” said Lustig, who is desperate to experience his first Old Firm match as a player.
“The Rangers game is a really big game, but first we need to take three points against Ross County. The last time against them we didn’t manage to score a goal. If you want to win the league we need three points.”