Brown will jeop­ar­dise Celtic’s bid to win 10-In-A-Row if he makes a Scot­land come­back

Evening Times - - SPORT - Matthew Lind­say

JONNY HAYES pretty much nailed it when he com­pared his Celtic cap­tain Scott Brown to Ben­jamin But­ton, the fic­tional F. Scott Fitzger­ald char­ac­ter who gets younger as he ages, as he chat­ted to the me­dia af­ter a game at Park­head ear­lier this month.

Brown is 34 now, but is ev­ery bit as fit and strong, pos­si­bly more so, than he was when he first broke through into the Hiber­nian side as a cal­low kid of just 17 way back in 2003.

His out­ing against Liv­ingston at Park­head on Sat­ur­day – a match which he scored in as the home team eased to a com­fort­able 4-0 win that main­tained their lead at the top of the Ladbrokes Pre­mier­ship – was his 27th of the 2019/20 cam­paign.

But it looked, as he bounded around the slick Celtic Park turf with all of his usual en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm, as if it was his first.

There is, though, a very good rea­son that “Broony” is still per­form­ing so con­sis­tently for Neil Len­non’s men both do­mes­ti­cally and in Europe; he is no longer play­ing for Scot­land.

Would he be avail­able for se­lec­tion ev­ery week if, as now looks a pos­si­bil­ity, he was to come out of in­ter­na­tional re­tire­ment and help the na­tional team in the Euro 2020 play-offs in March?

Would he be able to dom­i­nate games to the same de­gree next term if he rep­re­sented his coun­try in the tour­na­ment proper in the sum­mer?

Brown has re­peat­edly de­fied those who have pre­dicted his ca­reer at the top level was fin­ished in the past few years and, what is more, has taken great plea­sure in do­ing so. But he would be risk­ing his abil­ity to com­pete go­ing for­ward was he to try and add to his 55 caps.

At the same time, he would jeop­ar­dise Celtic’s at­tempt to win their record-equalling ninth con­sec­u­tive Scot­tish ti­tle and, if they beat Rangers to the league tro­phy come May, their tenth next sea­son.

It is a mi­nor mir­a­cle that he has been play­ing as well as he has in the Pre­mier­ship, Bet­fred Cup and Europa League as it is given the al­ready ex­ces­sive de­mands on his body.

The rests which he has had dur­ing the in­ter­na­tional breaks in Septem­ber, last month and this month have been in­valu­able to him and have played a huge part in en­sur­ing he has avoided pick­ing up prob­lem­atic strains and nig­gling in­juries.

That wasn’t the case back to­wards the end of the 2015/16 cam­paign when Brown ap­peared to be a spent force. He strug­gled badly in the Wil­liam Hill Scot­tish Cup semi-fi­nal against Rangers at Ham­p­den which Ronny Deila’s side were out­played in and lost on penal­ties.

The com­plete break which he had from foot­ball that close sea­son – the first since he started play­ing pro­fes­sion­ally some 14 years ear­lier – and the ar­rival of Bren­dan Rodgers as man­ager re­vi­talised him. He hasn’t looked back since.

Go­ing back to in­ter­na­tional foot­ball in a bid to re­alise his longheld am­bi­tion to play in the fi­nals of a ma­jor tour­na­ment would be a ret­ro­grade step for a man who could, if he is smart and sen­si­ble, con­ceiv­ably play on un­til he’s 40.

Be­ing able to turn to Brown in the meet­ing with Is­rael next year may well be ap­peal­ing to Scot­land man­ager Steve Clarke de­spite the wealth of tal­ent he cur­rently has at his dis­posal in the mid­field ar­eas.

If the na­tional team safely ne­go­ti­ate their last-four tie then the ex­pe­ri­ence, com­bat­ive­ness and de­fen­sive nous of such a sea­soned cam­paigner would be in­valu­able against ei­ther Nor­way or Ser­bia away.

The same goes for the fi­nals when Scot­land are guar­an­teed to come up against some of the best teams on the planet.

Cal­lum McGre­gor, Ryan Jack and John McGinn, as no less a judge than Steven Ger­rard pointed out on Fri­day, quickly struck up a good un­der­stand­ing in mid­field and per­formed well to­gether in the Group I wins over Cyr­pus away and Kaza­khstan at home this month.

Clarke could do worse than field the same trio, if they are fit and avail­able, once again in Scot­land’s next game even if Kenny McLean of Nor­wich City and Scott McTom­i­nay of Manch­ester United are in his squad.

Still, the temp­ta­tion to turn to a fine foot­baller and huge per­son­al­ity like Brown, who he has spo­ken to about re­turn­ing since he suc­ceeded Alex McLeish as man­ager back in May, will doubt­less be great.

But what shape will the mid­fielder be left in if he does? It is, im­pres­sive spec­i­men that he is, dif­fi­cult to see him skip­ping back in to Len­nox­town ready to re­sume club du­ties af­ter be­ing in­volved in phys­i­cally de­mand­ing and men­tally drain­ing in­ter­na­tion­als.

Neil Len­non ad­mit­ted he will have a chat with his skip­per about his in­ten­tions if Brown de­clares him­self avail­able. The North­ern Ir­ish­man, who was able to pro­long his own club ca­reer af­ter bring­ing an early end to his own in­ter­na­tional play­ing days is sure to

warn him of the dan­gers to both him and Celtic go­ing for­ward.

Len­non is well cov­ered in cen­tral mid­field with Nir Bit­ton, Ryan Christie, McGre­gor and Olivier Ntcham all ca­pa­ble of play­ing there. But none of them have the pres­ence of Brown. Not hav­ing his tal­is­man would be cer­tain to have a detri­men­tal im­pact on per­for­mances and re­sults.

And an­other thing

OLIVER McBurnie will be do­ing well to dis­lodge Steven Nai­smith from the Scot­land team come the Euro 2020 play-offs next March, given how well the Hearts man ac­quit­ted him­self in the wins over Cyr­pus and Kaza­khstan to round off Scot­land’s qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign.

Still, it was nice to see the Sh­effield United man pop up and score a last-minute equaliser against Manch­ester United in their Pre­mier League en­counter at Bra­mall Lane last night.

McBurnie might not have scored for the na­tional team in his nine ap­pear­ances to date, but no player who op­er­ates at such a high level should be writ­ten off by the Tar­tan Army.

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