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Aug 12, 2009

Brown's return a boon for club and country

Scott Brown has scarcely had his troubles to seek since he leapt into the Glasgow goldfish bowl of publicity, but the 24-year-old Celtic player is rapidly developing into one of his country's most outstanding talents and is an individual, whose performances will be pivotal to his club's prospects of regaining the Scottish Premier League title. In the past year, Brown has been forced to do his growing up in public, amidst family tragedy, and off-the-field misdemeanours, while battling with an ankle injury, which has restricted his appearances for most of the last three months. Yet it is a measure of his increasing maturity that the former Hibs starlet has bounced back from adversity with a resilience and refusal to be sidetracked by transfer gossip linking him with the English Premiership.

Instead, whether in assisting Celtic's progress to the play-off stages of the Champions League - where they will meet Arsenal - or pursuing a place at next year's World Cup in South Africa, Brown gives the impression that he has learned a lot from his baptism of fire with Celtic, not least in recognising that the best way of gaining plaudits and silencing your critics is doing your talking where it really matters. On the pitch.

Indeed, no sooner had Brown proclaimed last week that a club of Celtic's standing shouldn't be content to languish with Europe's second-tier organisations in the newly-established Europa League, than he was springing to the aid of Scottish football's plummeting reputation with a marvellously controlled and composed display after coming off the bench against Dinamo Moscow.

Those who watched him direct operations and wreak havoc, alongside such effective exponents of Celtic's traditional flair as Aiden McGeady and Shaun Maloney, against the Muscovites, could not have failed to notice the myriad powers which he brings to the Celtic midfield and, in common with the best players, he possesses an instinctive vision for the telling pass and knows how to create space without letting his opponents in on the secret. It is an efficacious combination and, although nobody at Parkhead is getting overly carried away, following the close-season appointment as manager of Tony Mowbray - Brown's old mentor at Easter Road - there is a tangible optimism around the club about the future.

Further afield, too, the likes of Scotland manager, George Burley, have no doubts that Brown boasts the gifts to be an international star for years to come. "Scott is a top player and can do the business anywhere. I've seen him on the left, right, attacking, holding and his enthusiasm, endeavour, passion and quality are there for all to see," said Burley, a man who is not normally prone to rave reviews, in preparation for this week's crucial World Cup qualifier against Norway.

"It's great that he is back with Tony as well. I gave Tony his first coaching chance at Ipswich and he has similar thoughts to me about the game. We have no reason to be downbeat with players such as Scott Brown and Celtic's result in Europe has given Scottish football a lift. There has been a lot of criticism [in the media], but I have been at a number of pre-season games and I have seen some good results, so we have to be positive about taking our country to the World Cup."

The key to Celtic's success - and they will have to launch their campaign at Pittodrie against an Aberdeen team, still smarting from European humiliation - will lie in the ability of Mowbray to weld together panache and pragmatism. Whilst at Hibs, and throughout his tenure at West Bromwich Albion, few people doubted his teams' ability to weave pretty patterns and dish up exciting football. But, ultimately, his stay in Edinburgh yielded scant reward, and his time in Birmingham brought the Baggies relegation, so the dynamic between Mowbray and those such as Brown will be hugely important. Fortunately, though, they are singing from the same hymn sheet. "I have spoken to the manager a few times and, from what he says, it is looking good for me. Hopefully, I can attack a bit more, and the more I do, the greater the number of chances I can create. I had a bit of freedom at Hibs when Tony was there, but it was a different situation, because we played a 4-3-3 and we were all-out attack, especially at home," says Brown, who also understands the need to improve on his past disciplinary record in 2009-10.

"Here at Celtic, we get a lot of teams coming and playing a 4-5-1 system, and we will have to learn how to play different ways to break that down. It's about using your brain to see what's around you, not lunging into a ball that's maybe not there to be won. This is an exciting time for us and I'm feeling good, I've been training with the lads, it has been intense, but the ankle is fine, and we are ready to give it 100%. We always are."

These next few weeks are hectic for Brown and his contemporaries. There is another Battle of Britain to be fought and three World Cup games within a month, as well as Saturday's trip to Aberdeen for what is traditionally one of the more feisty encounters on the calendar. But, if he is dwelling under any pressure, he is keeping it well concealed. That's what happens when managers trust players and the feeling is reciprocated.

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