Celtic will return to training this week under Neil Lennon, with the question of who is given the armband next season one of the first issues which will need to be addressed by the new manger as he aims to wrestle the championship back from Rangers.
Scott Brown, who Lennon let continue in the role of captain following his own promotion to interim manager, was in early at Celtic Park yesterday, fulfilling one of the duties of skipper when helping to launch this season's Young Hoops Club. Brown seems increasingly at home in the role of spokesman for the club, although he clearly prefers helping his team in the rough and tumble of a match environment.
One of his most dynamic memories of leading the team last season was when addressing what is termed the huddle of Celtic players prior to kick-off. He wishes to continue feeling this thrill and sense of pride in the coming months but will need to wait for Lennon to confirm whether he will be given the opportunity to do so, with Stephen McManus' future movements not yet confirmed. The former skipper, who spent last season on loan with Middlesbrough, is due to return to training with the rest of his Celtic team-mates on Thursday.
"It's just whenever the gaffer wants to speak to me," said Brown, when asked when he expected to be informed of Lennon's choice of captain. He will continue in the role until he is told not to, although Lennon made more than a few suggestions towards the end of last season that Brown would be his choice as captain. The fact he was happy to let him continue in his role was a pretty firm pointer as to where he stood on the matter. Perhaps he recognised the positive effect it was having on the midfielder's game. According to Brown, the responsibilities which come with being named captain enhanced his game. It also made him view Celtic as a more long-term option, with speculation last season linking him with a move to England.
"It was a great experience," he said yesterday. "Getting the lads in the huddle, giving them all a wee talking-to. Whether they listened to me or not is a different story. The manager had confidence in me to be captain of Celtic, and that helped my confidence and made me want to play at a club like Celtic even longer. Look at all the fans who come into the stadium. There are 50-60,000 out there, and they know I am the captain and so I must be setting an example."
While Brown was named captain by Tony Mowbray, it is noticeable that his performances improved under Lennon. This can be attributed to the fact that it was not until the run-in that Brown felt completely over the ankle injury that dogged him during the majority of the campaign. He has been maintaining his fitness levels this summer on his own and wants to hit the ground running when qualifying begins for the Champions League group stages next month. His commitment will be noted by Lennon, who is already well qualified to get the best out of someone who many say reminds them of the current manager when he played.
"He knows the position well," agreed Brown. "He knows what he wants me to do and I know what I want to do. I want to go forward but I want to help defend as well. I just need to score more goals - but I think everyone knows that. [Lennon] really brings confidence back into people. He wants to challenge you. He wants to make you a better player. He tells you what he has done and how he has done it. When he speaks, you listen."
Lennon will now also have to prove himself as a team-builder, however. There are some already at Celtic Park who he can turn to, with the South Korean international midfielder Ki Sung-Yeun having been used sparingly so far. He has shone at the World Cup finals in South Africa for his country and could well come to prominence in the Scottish Premier League next season. But Lennon has also cast his gaze towards England, and big names who might be prepared due to presence circumstances to take a leap of faith by joining Celtic. Veteran defender Sol Campbell is one, while Jimmy Bullard, whose costly wages will prove a dead-weight to Hull City in the Championship, has also been linked with a move to Scotland. Brown is happy to see either - or both - in the hoops, with Bullard in particular having left an impression on him.
"I played against him in a pre-season friendly when we played Fulham," he recalled. "I remember being impressed by his touch and his movement. He is not the quickest but he sometimes finds five, six yards of space. He has a football brain that's for sure.
"His ability form free-kicks is frightening. He scores free-kicks some people can only dream of. He scored from a volley after someone flicked it up from him which was all over Sky Sports for three or four days. He has a lot to offer our players."