Celtic's Scott Brown vows to play on for another four years
Just 12 days ago he was named PFA Scotland’s Player of the Year and on Sunday he will first collect the championship trophy prior to his side’s home game against Hearts and then collect his eighth championship medal.
Yet he has revealed he was so convinced that he was on the way out that, on first meeting his new manager, Brendan Rodgers, in the summer of 2016 he informed him that it was entirely possible he might not see out the next couple of campaigns.
Fortunately, the influence of Rodgers and the sage advice he received from his most trusted mentor, Gordon Strachan, have combined to prolong his career and, when Celtic face Motherwell in next weekend’s William Hill Scottish Cup final, the midfielder will have the opportunity to make history by becoming the first man to captain a side to consecutive trebles. Should he succeed, he will also collect his 17th major winner’s medal.
“I spoke with Gordon [in 2016],” he said. “I sat down and had a conversation and it was him who convinced me that, just because I was 30, I shouldn’t believe everyone who says your legs have gone.
“For me, that was huge. When I went down and spoke with [Rodgers], he said he wanted me in his plans for the next couple of years and to make sure I stayed free from injury and as fit as I possibly could be.
“I went out and worked as hard as I could have done. Then, in the first couple of weeks, I got injured. It was hard around then as, in the first competitive game against Lincoln Red Imps, we were beaten in Gibraltar. You’re thinking: ‘Jesus, we’ve started well against a part-time team…’
“But the conditions and the pitch didn’t suit us. We knew it would be totally different once we got them back to Celtic Park. Then our style slowly started to come through. Month by month, we started to get better. We understood every role and the way the manager wanted us to play.
“I wouldn’t say this is the fittest I’ve ever been but it’s definitely right up there. When I was younger I had so much energy I didn’t know what to do with it so I chased everybody about the park.
“Now it’s a different kind of fitness. For me it’s now about maintaining that and making sure I keep this level up for as long as I possibly can.”
Brown, who will be 33 next month, is certainly in a better place now than he was two years ago.
Retirement is no longer in his thoughts; indeed, he intends to carry on for the foreseeable future, with his ambition to skipper the club to a record ten titles in a row.
“As long as I keep producing the statistics I’m hitting just now and maintain my energy levels in the off season then I’ll go on as long as I can,” he said.
“When I first met Brendan Rodgers I said I would manage two years maximum but he said if I got myself fit and looked after myself then we’d see how it went and he was right because I’m still pushing on.
“The main thing is that I’m still enjoying it. I’ve won a lot of awards this season but the main thing is we’re playing good football and winning games.
“I’m eating better, looking after my diet, and living better off the park. A couple of years prior to Brendan coming in, training wasn’t as intense so my fitness levels have naturally gone up. I was determined to prove a point to everyone because people were saying I was finished and that my legs were gone.
“Consequently, I tried to be as fit as I could during pre- season. I got injured early on but I really kicked on after that. I went back to Scotland and we did some running and I was flying and keeping up with some of the quicker ones and that showed I could keep pushing on.”
Brown admits that his nadir came when Rangers’ Andy Halliday played him out of the game as Mark Warburton’s Championship winners won a penalty shootout to claim a place in the final of the Scottish Cup in 2016.
“We looked sloppy all over the park in that defeat to Rangers,” he said. “I have a lot of responsibility in the middle of the park but I didn’t turn up that day; I didn’t feel as though I could keep pushing myself.
“But it’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me, to be honest.”
That result (and his own performance) acted as a wake-up call for Brown and Celtic, who have not tasted defeat in the 11 subsequent Glasgow derbies, winning nine of them.
Strachan, who played his final match in England’s top tier for Coventry City in 1997, 83 days after celebrating his 40th birthday, offered a sympathetic ear and sound advice to his favourite son.
“Gordon played on until he was 40 by eating bananas and porridge and James Forrest now has two bananas every day because I told him that story – and I didn’t even know if it was true at the time!” added Brown
“He played in the English Premier League and it just shows that, if you look after yourself, continue training and don’t pick up too many bad injuries then you can keep going.
“People were talking about me retiring but there’s no chance of that in the next three or four years.”