Intrigue at Parkhead: Brendan Rodgers' Scott Brown problem
Image [cropped]: Ally Middleton, CC by 2.0
After a sluggish start to their 2018/19 campaign, Celtic and manager Brendan Rodgers have turned things around, silencing the many critics who hoped the Bhoys' period of dominance was finally ending. Celtic were knocked out of the Champions League, suffered defeats to the Red Bulls, Leipzig and Salzburg, in the Europa League and slipped behind Heart of Midlothian, who bossed the Scottish season's early doors. it was easy to see why the naysayers were party-planning.
Much to the dismay of long-trampled fans of other Scottish clubs, Rodgers and his side have spoken truth to the power of the adage form is temporary, class permanent. The Hoops enter the international break on a run of eight wins from their last 11. The only defeats came to clubs for whom PED refers to poncy energy drink. Meanwhile, revenge was exacted on Leipzig and two heavy wins came against pacesetters Hearts(3-0 and 5-0), one of which set up a League Cup final meeting with Aberdeen. For the moment, everything is going swimmingly but, within a few weeks, Rodgers is going to face a new problem. He'll be forced to make a very difficult personnel decision.
Scott Brown has been Celtic’s captain since 2010. He's won eight leagues, four Scottish Cups and four Scottish League Cups with the Hoops. He's been the man to collect the league trophy on the club's behalf for seven years in a row. The question is whether his place in the team should be at risk? Celtic's turnaround took place while he was absent through injury. Without him, Rodgers' Bhoys played excellent, high-paced, attacking football with the midfield often dominating games.
Brown hasn’t always had the best of relationships with the Celtic fans. During his Hibernian days, he was a constant thorn in the team's side. His driving runs with the ball caused all sorts of trouble. Since moving to Parkhead in 2007 he has adapted his game somewhat, becoming an all-rounder rather than the attack-minded player he was in his youth. During the Ronnie Deila era, many fans would have let him go. He'd no doubt admit his form was patchy.
Since Rodgers' arrival, however, Brown has been colossal. The Irishman moved him deeper again, much as he deployed Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard in the days they were allies at Anfield rather than mortal enemies in Glasgow. The move revived Brown’s career. The former Scotland captain thrived in the controller position.
In recent weeks Rodgers has been forced to move Callum McGregor into Brown's deep slot in midfield. McGregor has been another of Rodgers' success stories. In a short time, the 25-year-old improved almost beyond recognition. He can play just about everywhere in midfield and even deputised at left back when Kieran Tierney was unavailable. He has excelled in his latest position, combining superbly with the two more advanced midfielders, Tom Rogic and Ryan Christie.
When you consider the trio are all playing so well and France U21 Oliver Ntcham has just signed a new contract, Rodgers really has an embarrassment of riches in the midfield area. Brown is 33 years old and although the deep role is ideal for prolonging one's career, there is an argument to be made that McGregor can do everything Brown can and more. Eight years the captain's junior, he is more mobile. Rodgers may decide to limit Brown's minutes.
The combative midfielder has become a part of the fabric at Celtic Park but it must be recognised Brown can't carry on forever. It will be a sad day when Brown dons the famous Celtic shirt for the final time but nothing lasts forever. That day is coming.