When Scott Brown was initially considering making his return from international retirement for one game, the crunch match he had in mind was not Slovenia.
But defeat by England in November, when Brown was restored to the team to great fanfare, means far greater significance is now attached to tomorrow’s clash with the team currently occupying second place in Group F.
Alert to the potential consequences of a defeat or even draw against Slovenia at Hampden, Brown has elected to carry on for longer than just his Wembley return.
He understood the very person for whom he originally overturned his retirement decision needed him now more than ever. Gordon Strachan is on the brink.
But Brown has his back. The midfielder has no wish to feature in any team that lets him down again.
“There is always that, it’s in the back of your mind,” Brown said yesterday. “That’s the reason we need to make sure we go out there and do it for him. I know we want to do it for the fans, but we want to try to keep Gordon here as long as possible, for what he has done for me, and what he has done for a lot of the lads as well.
“I think it brings everyone’s balls out, to be fair. It brings out that winning mentality and togetherness which is what we need in these times.”
The last time Brown was on the Hampden pitch at a Scotland game he was still getting used to his status as retired international player. He was invited to the game by the SFA and accepted an award before kick-off against Lithuania to mark him having reached his 50th cap, which was originally meant to be his last.
It was a discombobulating experience, he admits, to be so close to the action and yet be unable to affect what proved to be the first misstep in Scotland’s faltering campaign.
“It was hard to go along and watch,” he said. “I enjoyed going along and taking the atmosphere in at a Scotland game.
“For me, I felt as if I could still help the lads out and be part of it. That was always in the back of my mind. I knew the England game was coming along and I was biting at the chance. I didn’t want to be the guy who retired and then came back two games later. But that was how it was!”
He wouldn’t have been ‘that guy’ had it been anyone else other than Strachan doing the asking. “I would have never come back for anyone else,” he confirmed. “It was just due to our relationship.”
Providing Strachan with comfort as he contemplates tomorrow’s must-win game is knowing he can rely on Brown to help less experienced members of the side, such as potential debutant Stuart Armstrong, through such a challenging experience.
Asked if he had any advice to give his Celtic team-mate, Brown said: “Make sure he makes a Euros or a World Cup or he will end up like me! This is my last chance, I need to make sure we give everything.”
Little has gone right for Strachan during this current campaign except for the successful conclusion to talks with Brown over whether he might make a sensational return to the side. The circumstances proved ideal. Not only was Brown conscious of Strachan’s predicament following dropped points in successive games to Lithuania and Slovakia, he was feeling good about himself after enjoying a productive start to the season under Brendan Rodgers at Celtic.
Looking at him this week at Mar Hall, it’s easy to wonder whether Brown, at the age of 31, is in the best physical shape of his career.
Nevertheless, he knows he might be better off resting his body this weekend ahead of a run-in where he hopes to lead Celtic to only a third-ever treble. The reason he isn’t is down to one person and one person only.
Strachan’s standing might have taken a dip in the eyes of the Tartan Army but according to someone who knows him as well as anyone, Strachan is still a figure worth following. He is, Brown states, “the best in the business” and the reason there are now so few call-offs from Scotland squads ahead of games.
“He asked if I would come back, and I was feeling good about myself,” recalled Brown. “It was a good time for me, and it was maybe the right time for him to ask me to come back.”
But Brown also felt like he owed the person who started his love affair with Celtic. “Who [else] would have signed me for £4.5 million? He’s the daft bugger who did,” he smiled.
Little did Strachan know then that a decade on he would be depending on the then wild child to get him out of a rut.
Brown, too, finds it hard to believe how close they’ve grown since they first met. “I was a wee bit scared [of him at first],” he said. “I’d seen a few of his press conferences and I thought, ‘right, this could be good.’ I met him at Celtic Park and I loved the way he was with me. I had a lot of time for him. Our relationship has blossomed over the years. It’s still going strong now.
“For me, I’ve enjoyed every single moment with him. His training is what I will try to do, when I’m a manager somewhere else. You learn off the best, and he is the best in the business.
“Even though he is getting on [Strachan turned 60 in February], he is still learning and he is still improving. He looks at different styles, different formations, and different ways to play. He’s not stuck in the blocks. He’s a manager who is looking to go places. He wants to get us to the Euros and now to the World Cup.”
But Brown knows all the compliments in the world won’t get Scotland to Russia. Only application and, it is hoped, some inspiration tomorrow against Slovenia can extend a working relationship between Brown and Strachan, with the midfielder stressing he is taking his bonus international career one game at a time.
“As long as I am feeling good and positive, I will keep going for as long as I possibly can,” he said. There is, though, an imaginary asterisk hanging in the air when Brown finishes uttering this sentence, one denoting the proviso: Strachan’s own future depending.