THE kid from Dunfermline who once sported a red mohawk and was banned from fizzy juice has gone on to become Scotland’s most seasoned Champions League player.
But Scott Brown admitted last night that his illustrious career in the continent’s glamour club competition – which this week saw him surpass the iconic Kenny Dalglish in this nation’s list of all-time appearance makers – was almost strangled at birth.
Let’s just say the midfielder wasn’t exactly flavour of the month with his manager Gordon Strachan after making his debut in this competition in a 2-0 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk in September 2007, just months after his £4.5m arrival from Hibs. “I didn’t think I’d still be here the next WEEK after Gordon went through me,” said Brown. “But it’s been fantastic. It’s an honour and a privilege to play in front of these fans.”
Brown laughs off the obvious comparison with Dalglish, the Liverpool legend whose love affair with this competition came in simpler times. The former Celtic striker captured this title three times – 1978, 1981 and 1984 – but while Brown must endure gruelling qualification matches just to reach the group stages (there will be eight of them next pre-season), with a first-round bye thrown in it took Dalglish just seven in total to claim the trophy in 1978, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win against Club Bruges at Wembley. It is harsh, though, to say Brown – the pre-eminent Scottish player of his generation – has got the record just for good attendance.
“I’d take that [seven games to reach the final],” said Brown. “We play six just to get into the group stages now! It’s just different generations. Kenny was a fantastic player in his generation and I have so much respect for what he did in the game and what he did for Scotland as well.
“Tuesday was a special night for me but don’t take anything away from Kenny – he was a fantastic player and I could not lace his boots if I tried,” he added. “I’ve probably got more skill and flair than him! And more of a goal scoring threat as well! No, Kenny is fantastic. It’s me just being around for a long time, that’s what that shows. We play a lot of games he probably didn’t play back then.
“It has been a long time. But I have enjoyed every single moment. There’s been ups and downs, it’s football. Managers come in and managers go out. I’ve been lucky enough to still be here. And hopefully there is a long time to come for me.”
Brown reckons he is far from finished when it comes to racking up Champions League appearances. And why should he, considering the likes of Ryan Giggs were still gracing this level way into his late 30s? The Celtic and Scotland captain still has a fair way to go, almost 100 behind all-time record holder Iker Casillas (166), Xavi (151) and Cristiano Ronaldo (145).
“How many more can I get?” said Brown. “Hopefully quite a lot. I am enjoying my football. I feel as fit as I ever have been. I am still going there on 90 minutes, no cramp, no muscle pain. As long as I keep on top of my fitness, keep training well and look after myself off the park I don’t see why I can’t go on for three or four seasons.”
One factor which may determine his longevity at this level, of course, is precisely how long he is prepared to prolong his international career. Having retired once already from international play, only to be talked into a return by his former club boss Strachan, Brown admits the apparent lack of urgency in the SFA’s recruitment of a permanent Scotland manager is becoming a frustration. Talks are at an advanced stage about a friendly with Morocco in March, with matches in the all-new Uefa Nations League set to commence this September, and the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign under way in March 2019.
“It’s a bit of a pain in the arse to be perfectly honest,” said Brown. “You are sitting back waiting on something happening and there’s a match coming up in March. You’d like a manager to be in charge for the start of the European campaign. Someone has to be there to see who can play – I know whoever comes in will probably have watched the games but it is different to watching them and actually being part of it and seeing what happens in the changing room and on the playing field as well.
“There are a lot of players who are in their thirties so whoever the manager is might want a younger squad or a fitter squad,” he added. “It will be hard if he only has one game or something and then straight into European qualification.”
Where Dalglish and Liverpool once lorded it over the rest of Europe, Brown’s only hope of getting in the mix for continental silverware comes via a concerted run in the Europa League, after a winter break in Dubai. “We have to see who we get,” he said. “We will wait for Monday’s draw and take it from there.”