Neil Lennon has described as “ageism” attempts earlier this season to portray Scott Brown as on the wane. And the Celtic manager believes that, at 34, the club captain has the physiology to allow him to perform as he did when he was younger.
There was a Brown-shaped hole in the Scotland midfield for the chastening defeats by Russia and Belgium during the Euro 2020 fortnight – his retirement from international duty acknowledged as gravely diminishing the national team in various post-mortems conducted after qualification for the finals via the group phase became a virtual impossibility.
Yet, prior to Brown’s outstanding showing in Celtic’s recent derby win at Ibrox, he was being talked about as on the way down, an assessment which Lennon rails against.
“It’s ageism, ageism,” said the 48-year-old. “He’s a man for all seasons, I think. When he’s right – and in the main he’s always right – he’s still a helluva player. It’s difficult to play without him at times, but the derby was one of his finest games that I’ve seen from him, and I’ve been here for a long, long time.
“It is so dangerous to write off Broony. He’s got that personality. There was a time at Ibrox when he went on a run at Ibrox and it looked like Scott Brown of 21. It was awesome, absolutely awesome. He was like a 400m runner. He started in his own half and it’s fantastic that, at 34, he still has that in the locker. He ran 40, 50 yards in the 70 something minute.
“I thought he was superb in that first half.
“He has the desire and fire, but it’s controlled. His reading of the game, his tackling, which is still a fine art, and I would know a bit about that, is perfect. He was so impressive.”
And the lungs that allowed for Brown, pictured, to make that Ibrox run, will allow him to run games in his quarter-back berth for more than the foreseeable future, according to Lennon.
“He’s just got that natural cardio-vascular,” he said. “He’s blessed with that, really. When you see him running in training behind the scenes, he’s still at the forefront of it all, and very powerful. He had a ligament injury in the toe, and that’s sort-of curtailed him a little bit in some of the games – where he was getting injected – and that needs to settle eventually. But looking at him at Ibrox, he looked back to his very, very best.
“Obviously, he’s evolved his game to be that No 6 now, where he reads the game and he still covers the ground, tackles, and recycles the ball brilliantly. When you really need him, he’s there and that’s really important. He’s a big-game player.”
Rumours circulated a month ago that there had been a major fall-out between Lennon and his captain, whom he moulded as his on-field general in leaning on him in that role throughout his four-year first spell in charge from 2010. The Irishman rejects out of hand any suggestion there has been a cooling in their alliance.
“I don’t know where that’s come from at all. It’s complete nonsense, honestly. I can’t control the rumours,” Lennon said.
“I love him and, you know, we have a great relationship; a very strong bond with a huge amount of respect and it goes back a long, long way. And I trust him; and he trusts me. It would take a lot for anything to come between that.”
Celtic will resume their quest for nine-in-a-row league titles at Hamilton on Saturday but Lennon does not fear any drop-off because they could hardly have a more contrasting assignment than that which brought them the high of derby success at the home of their title rivals.
“It’s actually something that’s not a major worry for me,” he said. “Going to Hamilton is a totally different environment from the Rangers game. But in Scotland you have got that here and there – but you have to win. There is a disparity between some games in Scotland.
“There is no point in winning at Ibrox and then slipping up at Hamilton. Going from [one to the other] is where you are looking to Brown, [Callum] McGregor, [James] Forrest, the lads who have been here for a while and know what it’s all about. And the consistent performers as well, like Ryan Christie. But for the new ones this will be new challenge.”
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