A week on from making his 700th professional appearance, there was no rest for the indomitable Scott Brown as he helped Celtic reach the 5th round of the Scottish Cup with a routine win over Clyde.
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It was somewhat of a surprise to see the Celtic captain even start the game. Neil Lennon had promised changes and delivered six of them from the side which blew Motherwell away last Wednesday. While key figures Callum McGregor and Odsonne Edouard were given the day off, Brown stayed for his 43rd appearance of the season and 568th in the hoops.
He even popped up with the crucial second goal to kill the tie off. A fifth of the campaign; he hasn’t scored more in a single season since 2011/12. They may not come around very often, but a Brown strike tends to signal Celtic victory. 2012 also marked the last time one of his efforts coincided with a Celtic loss (a 3-2 reverse at Ibrox). Since then he has scored in 20 different matches for the Parkhead side without defeat. A 2-2 draw against Red Bull Salzburg in the Europa League in 2014 was the last time a Brown goal ended in anything but a Celtic win (all stats: FitbaStats).
Another milestone was reached in December as he lifted a 20th major trophy for the club. That includes the last ten domestic trophies available. His status as the most important Celtic player of the last decade is indisputable. His road to Parkhead immortality, though, has featured plenty of bumps along the way.
The Scot arrived in the east end of Glasgow a fresh-faced yet expensive summer acquisition from Hibernian in 2007. Gordon Strachan had to fend off interest from the other half of the Old Firm to secure his signature – oh how history could have changed. The Guardian described him at the time as “a dynamic, driving midfielder, widely considered the most exciting young player in Scotland.”
He began his first season strongly as Celtic looked to claim a third straight league title. But eventually his ill-discipline – which has earned him 147 yellow cards in his career – would cost him his place in the team at a crucial time. As Celtic raced their way to a thrilling final day title win, Brown had been usurped by the unlikely duo of Paul Hartley and Barry Robson.
Injuries would hamper him over the next couple of seasons as Rangers reversed fortunes and took three league crowns of their own. In 2010, however, Tony Mowbray was the man to first present Brown with the captain’s armband. One of the few bright ideas of Mowbray’s ill-fated spell at Parkhead.
When Neil Lennon took over, Brown remained as captain. But as the Northern Irishman began building the squad that would kick off the current eight-in-a-row run, midfield competition became extremely strong. Victor Wanyama, Ki Sung-Yeung, Joe Ledley and Beram Kayal all would go on to play in the Premier League – a sign of their quality. Brown would often find himself playing on the right-wing to accommodate others. Not his best position, but it did lead to one of his most iconic moments in a Celtic strip when he curled in an Ibrox screamer. His improvised ‘Broony’ celebration has become legendary.
Brown only improving with age
That moment cemented Brown as the King of Scottish football. Trophy after trophy would follow, as did recognition on the international stage. He won 55 caps for the national team and was appointed captain by his old Celtic manager Strachan in 2013. As he and many others have discovered in newer, more painful ways over the last 20 years, though, Scotland’s relationship with major tournaments isn’t a pleasant one.
Brown cut short his international tenure in 2016 citing his wish to prolong his club career. Despite a brief return later that year, it has proven to be one of his smarter decisions. For as injuries mounted up during the Ronny Deila years, Brown appeared to be a player on the wane. A lengthy absence in 2015/16 prompted fears that his days bossing the SPFL could be over, even more so after news of Brendan Rodgers appointment. Could Brown’s ageing, slowing legs adapt to the fast, flowing football the former Liverpool boss demanded? The evidence of the last three-and-a-half years says it all.
Despite being the wrong side of 30, Brown improved immeasurably under the Northern Irishman. His style changed from all-action midfielder to an enabler for the more creative talents in the squad. More than that, though, he is the beating heart of this Celtic team. The man through which everything flows. The man who dictates the tempo of games and who lifts others in times of trouble.
Scott Brown has been our most consistent & influential player in recent times
Keeps it simple, knowledge of the game & work rate is unbelievable, leadership skills are second to none & most importantly knows what it means to pull on that jersey
Pivotal in @CelticFC success 🙌🏻🍀
— Rebel Celts🍀🇮🇪 (@Rebel_Celts) February 9, 2020
Actually makes me sad just thinking of Scott Brown retiring one day. What a servant he’s been. Modern day Legend \o/
— Adam Lynch (@AdamLynch27) February 8, 2020
At this point, it’s almost certain that he will see out his career at Celtic Park, possibly as soon as 2021. He intimated as much when penning a new two-year deal last January. Brown’s lifting of trophies has become more frequent than the changing of the clocks and after the way Celtic have begun 2020, who would bet against him rounding out this season and then his career with yet more silverware.