Celtic capable of beating Euro finalists Marseille says ex-player

Testimonial matches, by definition, tend to signpost the end of an era rather than the dawn of a new one. However, when Celtic face the Republic of Ireland at Parkhead on 20 May in honour of Scott Brown, club legend Pat Bonner argues that the best years may yet be in front of the midfielder.

Considering they will have taken on Motherwell in the final of the Scottish Cup the previous day, the 32-year-old could by then have won his 16th major domestic trophy with the Parkhead club and led them to historic back-to-back trebles under manager Brendan Rodgers.

Yet Bonner, whose 641 appearances for Celtic remains a club record for a goalkeeper, argues that, by finally making significant inroads into a European campaign in the next few seasons, Brown can burnish his cv while also rebutting critics who claim that his failure to ply his trade in England leaves a question mark over his 

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“They used to throw that at Danny McGrain and they used to throw it at myself,” Bonner said. “But when you are loving it here, enjoying success, when the fans adore you and you’re getting well paid then so what?

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers takes a moment to speak to Scott Brown during the win over Hearts. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

“We were enjoying ourselves so much we didn’t think about money and, when you’re playing in Europe, you don’t have to go to England.

“Anyway, if Celtic get into the Champions League next year and Brendan brings in two quality players then this team can do something in Europe. Look at Marseille getting into the Europa League final – Celtic could beat Marseille.

“So you don’t have to go to England to achieve. A lot of players down in the bottom half of the English Premier League have earned huge money but don’t compete at the top end.”

Bonner, who won 80 caps for the Republic, also faced his national team in his own testimonial back in 1991 and he believes that Brown, whom he rates as one of the greatest captains in the club’s 130-year history, has earned his day in the sun.

“It’s a fantastic honour for him,” he said. “I was lucky enough to get one and he’s among a small band of us now; it’ll be a lovely occasion for him and his family.

“We don’t put enough emphasis on them in football as they have to put up with the days when we come back after a bad defeat but Scott’s been lucky he’s not had too many of those.

“Scott is a different player now. He reminds me of Roy Keane in many ways because he also had to adapt his game. I remember Roy coming to the Irish set-up when he was at Forest and then Manchester United. Then he was a runner, a tackler and a snarler who would score goals. Then he almost reinvented himself, playing deeper and passing the ball. He took on the personality that he was the leader of the team. Scott is very much in that mould. Remember, when he first came to Celtic he would always be up around the box but now he appreciates the game in a different way.

“Brendan has been really good for him. They have obviously sat down and spoken about his role because, a couple of years ago, he was getting to a stage where maybe his career looked as though it would peter out a little bit and he’d move on.

“That’s not a criticism. Maybe Scott’s fitness wasn’t what it was because he lost a little at that age; if fitness wasn’t a problem we’d all still be playing. I’d still be in goals and be diving around but, unfortunately, that’s part of it.”