Scott Brown might not have continued his recent scoring streak that has seen him net a goal in each of his previous four games, but the midfielder’s renaissance this season continued apace against Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Saturday.
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The club captain (pictured) has long divided Celtic fans, some praising his leadership and combative style, while the rest have derided the former Hibernian star — the most expensive player transferred between two Scottish clubs — as an expensive flop. Even as recently as January, with Newcastle having expressed an interest in the midfielder prior to the opening of the transfer window, some fans were hoping the club cashed in on Brown, who penned an extension to his current deal in December that contracts him to Celtic until 2015.
The midfielder started his Celtic career with a series of impressive performances but since then, despite occasional spells of decent form, he has never consistently recreated the displays that saw Celtic pay £4.4million for his services in 2007. However his time at Celtic has been hampered by injuries, notably an ankle problem that dogged him towards the end of the 2008/09 season and the start of the following term, eventually sidelining him for three months. A metatarsal injury kept him out for two months last season and he was out for a similar length earlier this term. During those absences last year and this year, Celtic endured some of their worst runs of results during the respective campaigns. Brown was also affected personally by the loss of his sister Fiona, 21, to cancer in May 2008.
Yet despite these obstacles contributing to his stuttering form, in his time at Celtic, Brown won the SPL in 2008, was man-of-the-match as the Hoops defeated Rangers in the 2009 League Cup final, was named SPL Players’ Player of the Year that season and captained the side to the Scottish Cup last term.
Used as a defensive midfielder under Gordon Strachan and originally on the right wing by Neil Lennon, Brown has settled into a flexible central midfield role and Hoops fans are finally seeing the best of the combative box-to-box midfielder, who FIFA earmarked in 2009 as a player to watch. Celtic might have only won 1-0 against Inverness but Brown, who had a hand in Joe Ledley’s winner, did his best to extend the lead by chasing down every lost cause, his persistence and harrying repeatedly winning corners and freekicks in the final third.
It was a similar performance to that against Hearts three days earlier, when his closing down of Marius Zaliukas near the halfway line saw him win the ball and start the move that led to Ledley’s goal. This never-say-die attitude from the captain even seems to have rubbed off on the usually slothful Georgios Samaras, whose chasing down a ball seemingly destined for the touchline against Inverness last Saturday ultimately led to the foul on the Greek that saw Steve Williams sent off.
As well as his pressing, direct style, Brown showed himself capable of individual flashes of brilliance against Caley when, while back defending in his own half, he cheekily chipped the ball over an Inverness player before clearing. The move was reminiscent of his goal at Tynecastle. Celtic could well have been rattled after Stephen Elliot’s incorrectly disallowed goal, but the Hoops continued to press and Brown’s bold chip over Medhi Taouil 10 yards inside his own half instigated a move finished clinically seconds later by the captain 10 yards from goal.
These confident, energetic displays are typical of Brown’s performances this season in general and in the last month in particular, during which time he has hit four goals in his last five games and had a hand in several more.
I believe the role of captain is often overvalued and question how much impact the captain can have on the pitch during a game. In Brown’s case, however, if the least the players do is take inspiration from his performances and follow his example, then the midfielder should be the first name on Lennon’s team sheet every week.