Scott Brown On Celtic, Captaincy, Hibernian And Representing Scotland

Scott Brown On Celtic, Captaincy, Hibernian And Representing Scotland

Part II of a two-part interview with Scott Brown, by Callum McFadden for WFi. Part I can be found here

You started your career at Hibernian and won the League Cup in 2007 under John Collins. How exciting was that time at the start of your career for you?

“It was a great time to be at Hibs because there was a group of players like myself, Kevin Thomson, Steven Whittaker and others who came into the team at the same time.

“We enjoyed it because we were only 16 or 17 when coming through and into the first team which was incredible.

“It was pretty much like a group of mates playing football together without any pressure because we knew each other so well and did not think too much about the pressure of results and performances due to our youth.

“Our friendships grew due to the fact that we came into the team at the same time and we all worked hard together along with the staff and senior players at that time to make the best of our ability.

“For example, if somebody asked us to do extra training then we would be doing it without any hesitation because we knew, even at a young age, that having a positive attitude was not just for one day, but for the rest of your career.

“It is important to get into the habit of doing things that benefit you in the long term without thinking about them and I think that’s the understanding and way of thinking that young kids have to get into now.

“You cannot always have somebody telling you what to do, you’ve got to do it for yourself and make sure that you give yourself the best opportunity to be the best player that you can be.”

When you moved to Celtic for a sizeable fee of £4.4 million in the summer of 2007, did you feel any added pressure with the focus that was placed on the fee at all?

“No, not really. Gordon Strachan and Peter Lawwell were incredible with me and the whole situation around my arrival.

“I always knew what was happening from their side and they knew what was happening from my side.

“They told me that they wanted to build the team around me which was amazing to hear.

“I felt great after my first day the club because it was clear in training that we had a few talented youngsters while also having a lot of experience in the squad as well.

“That level of experience helped us through that first season to win the title up at Tannadice and secure three league titles in a row.

“Players like Gary Caldwell, Paul Hartley and Steven Pressley were great with me as we had played with and against each other in Edinburgh in the past.

“They were really good people and fantastic players too.”

How special was winning your first league title at Tannadice in 2008 for the whole club and yourself personally?

“It was incredible because it was my first season and we won the league outright which was what we planned to do.

“It was the first major achievement during my time at the club that we wanted and we managed to do it up at Tannadice that night in May under the lights.

“It was great to see the fans celebrating and it was great for me to have an understanding of what it is like to win a league because that is what is the minimum expectation at Celtic so to to win it was special as was the style that we achieved the success with as well.”

In terms of captaincy, was that something that always came naturally to you?

“You build yourself up and I’m sure there were a lot of people when I was 17 or 18 who probably didn’t think I’d ever become a captain or a leader. I was probably one of them who wouldn’t have foreseen that for myself either, in all honesty.

“But you grow into it and you realise that you have always got to have an ambition to better yourself and your career so I wanted to become that captain that I could be and I tried every day to prove that at Celtic.

“Sure, I didn’t have the talent that a lot of other people did but I certainly worked harder than a lot of people to get the most from my talent.

“I was always into maintaining high levels of fitness to ensure that I was getting on top of people on the pitch in the centre of the pitch.

“That relentless drive and determination was crucial to my game and you needed to have that drive in the game to succeed.

“Sadly, I think that edge and drive from the game has gone a little bit now because people think you can showcase your talent on TikTok and Instagram and that you have made it for life in the game but you have got to do it week in, week out if you want to succeed and be remembered as a special footballer.

“Fans will like you, fans will not like you, they’ll shout things and try to disrupt your game but you have just got to be a bigger person and you’ve got to go into a zone to make sure that you and your team are the winners at the end of the 90 minutes.

“Once you know that you’ve won the game, you can then do that little smile and have that wee glance of satisfaction on your face towards them and others.”

In terms of working with Neil Lennon as a manager, what was that like for you because he was a leader and a captain in the same mould as you in many ways?

“The first word that I would use is that I was a wee bit wary, shall we say, only because of what he achieved at the club long before I had arrived.

“Also, because, me and the gaffer kicked each other all over the pitch when the two of us came face to face during Celtic and Hibs games (laughs).

“I actually met him for the first game after I had first signed, I can’t remember who it was that we were playing at home but I went to the game and Gordon sent me into the changing room and said to go and sit in the changing room for five minutes as he wanted me to be there when he did the team talk with the lads. So I was like, no worries.

“Then, after the game I went back in and Lenny came into the dressing room to have a chat to me.

“We just talked about Celtic and he was so passionate about the club and about me coming in to play for the club.

“It was funny because, as I said earlier, the two of us kicked the crap out of each other and fought each other when we faced each other as players but he could not have been any nicer to somebody that was young and keen to learn and adapt as quickly as possible.

“Speaking to him also helped me get to know the task at hand at Celtic because I was probably a little bit naive about the club at the time but he helped me through that by setting the standards out for me.

“It was great when he got an opportunity to come back as a coach under Gordon because we enjoyed working with him.

“When Gordon left the club and was replaced by Tony Mowbray, the lads wanted him to be around the staff as he was under Gordon but sadly that was not to be.

“Lenny had a hard spell with Tony Mowbray and Peter Grant because they did not want him at the club but all of us knew long-term that Lenny was a man that had the club at heart and wanted to work harder than anyone else.

“So, it was the best possible scenario that he was able to come back as manager at the time of Tony’s departure from the club.

“Throughout both spells working with him, he got the best out of the team more often than not while always having the best intentions of the club at heart. No matter what we did, he wanted us to win and would do anything to make sure we could succeed.”

Can you talk me through the success that you had in Europe under Neil Lennon? What was the key to achieving that success?

“One of the reasons we achieved what we did under him was the fact that he kicked every ball when he was on the sidelines.

“He shouted, he screamed. We could hear him sometimes and sometimes we chose not to hear him as well (laughs). But, no, he was brilliant for us.

“In domestic games and in European games, his leadership qualities and his desire to win came to dire and, added to that, his man-management and his skills were really, really good.

“He knew how to get the best out of the players and that is the most important for a football manager and his record speaks for itself with what he has achieved in the game.”

Following Neil’s departure from the club, Ronnie Deila managed the team for a couple of seasons before the arrival of Brendan Rodgers in 2016. What was the atmosphere around the club like when Brendan arrived? You seemed to have a really close relationship with him as well from the minute he came in.

“Brendan coming to the club was great because it was probably what I needed at the time.

“I needed a little bit of direction as I had lost my way a little bit under Ronnie so when Brendan came in, he immediately was able to communicate to me that he had a full understanding of my game and what he wanted from a centre midfielder.

“He broke everything down for me in terms of how much distance he wanted me to run, how much intensity was required and how many touches you should be aiming to get in a game.

“He gave me even more game awareness in my position and it was good timing because I was 30 and was starting to understand the game much better than I had when I was a young player.

“Before he took the job, it was encouraging that he had taken time to come and see me because a lot of people probably at that time thought of me that I only had a couple of years left.

“However, I felt as fit then as I probably ever did in my career and Brendan took that to another level.

“I was properly looking after myself and making sure I was available to train and play all the time. I think I had one niggly injury under him and that was right at the start of his time in charge.

“He raised the standard around the club and that started with the intensity of training. We tried to set higher standards with each passing week and month.

“We worked at such a high intensity in training to hit those levels too.

“In training just as in games, I always wanted to make sure I that I could beat everybody else. I would always try and challenge myself, as well as challenge Callum McGregor and Scott Sinclair and others to see how far we could take the team forward as well.”

With Brendan Rodgers in charge and then Neil Lennon’s second spell as a manager, it led to unprecedented success at Celtic with four trebles in a row being won. What was it that enabled the team to keep winning even after all that had been won before?

“At Celtic, everyone just expects you to win.

“Under Brendan, we ended up winning a treble without losing a game and went unbeaten in over 60 games which was an unbelievable feat.

“Even when that run came to an end against Hearts,  we bounced back and went again which summed the group up.

“It was a phenomenal time for the club and when Brendan left, Neil Lennon continued that winning run and positive momentum.

“That changed during the COVID season which really hit the club really badly. Looking back, there were a few players that probably wanted to leave the club at the time and, maybe, we held on to them a little bit too long.

“I was getting that a little bit older as well so it was hard for everybody but I honestly think if we would have continued in the fashion that we had before Covid, and the stoppage of football did not happen, that we could have pushed on like we did before the COVID season was over.

“Obviously, there is no way to prove that and we cannot change the circumstances but that is my belief.”

What would you pick out as your personal highlights from your time at Celtic?

“Winning all of the trophies that I did during my time at the club. Every one of them meant so much to me.

“Even now, I walk down the street and if I see a Celtic fan, they still remember me doing this or that which helps bring back some amazing memories to me as well.

“Just being at Celtic was a highlight and something that I will always be grateful for. I loved my time there and I cherish every moment of it.

“However, everything comes to an end eventually in football because it’s a short career and you get older and know that it is time to go.

“I hope that whoever it is that’s coming through to replace myself, to replace Callum McGregor eventually will love that role as captain and as a Celtic player as much as I did and as Callum does now.”

Many pundits and former teammates have said that they believe you could have played at the biggest clubs in the Premier League. Do you have any regrets about not going down to England?

“Maybe a little bit as I have liked to have competed in the Premier League but, do not forget, that we competed in the Champions League at the same time.

“We went away to places like Bayern Munich, we faced the likes of Manchester City and we did well in many of those games.

“At Celtic, I  did compete against top quality players and, don’t get me wrong, we had some really bad results against Barcelona and PSG but in other games, we were competing against top quality players and gave them a more than fair battle.

“In European games, we knew that we had to work together and become a hard team to beat and we were all in it together.

“So for us, that was probably the best thing about Celtic that we all pulled together for those big nights and big occasions for the fans and our own personal pride.”

You left Celtic in 2021 for Aberdeen in a player/coach capacity which meant that you did not play under Ange Postecoglou when he arrived at Celtic. With hindsight, do you regret not staying on to experience life under him at Celtic?

“No, not the slightest because I knew that my time was done.

“I loved Ange’s football and the way that he played but you don’t want to overstay your welcome at any club.

“Yes, I would have loved to have seen a couple of his training sessions as a player but I recently had the luxury to go down to Tottenham and see a few sessions that he put on

“I learned a lot from my observing him and his staff. It was good to watch them and the intensity they played with.“

Finally, Scott, in terms of your Scotland career, how do you reflect on that overall?

“Working with Gordon Strachan again was brilliant. We had some good times but were just disappointed that we could never make a Euros or a World Cup.

“What the lads are doing now under Steve Clarke is fantastic.

“Overall, I have no regrets from my career at club level or for Scotland.

“Your time comes and goes and I don’t look back on that too much anymore and wish I would have done this or that.

“The main thing for me is that what happened in the history book stays there and I move on and go forward.

“My main aim now is to succeed as a manager and do the best possible job that I can in this new phase of my career.”