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In a career that’s been forged from an ability to shape the direction of events for club and country, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that, with one short statement, Scott Brown could make a significant change to a transitional summer at two major clubs.
The Celtic captain will draw a line under 14 years at the club when he leaves this summer, heading north to take on a player-coach role as part of the new management set-up at Aberdeen.
For Celtic, it completes a neat set of summer changes as a transformative time beckons. Next season the club will have a new chief executive in place, a new manager and now a new captain.
At Pittodrie, Dave Cormack’s first managerial appointment as chairman will be starting the new season with hopes of lifting Aberdeen in the league and enjoying trophy success. Stephen Glass will be helped in that task by the presence of Brown on his coaching staff and as a leader at the heart of his new-look team.
For Brown, it’s the start of a new chapter after a long and storied time at Parkhead.
The dream may have been to finish with a record-breaking title but there’s little to take the shine off the midfielder’s achievements. Brown has won 22 trophies and played more than 600 games at the club. He’s been captain through one of the most successful periods in the club’s history and led a team through an unbeaten season.
On average, Brown has lifted silverware with Celtic once every 28 games.
The 35-year-old will be a hard act to follow. There may be an obvious candidate for the captaincy in Callum McGregor, and Ismaila Soro would be current favourite to step into Brown’s position on the field, but the midfielder has become a huge presence over the years since he arrived from Hibs as one of the country’s brightest prospects.
Whether directing the play, breaking up attacks and driving others forward, Brown has been at the centre of whatever’s been happening with Celtic. Often a lightning rod for abuse or criticism, a tormentor-in-chief of opposition players and someone who everyone has an opinion on, the fact that Brown has been handed continued responsibility under five permanent Celtic managers shows the influence he has on a team.
Whoever steps through the doors as manager at Celtic Park this summer will have to draw up plans without him, and it’s safe to say there isn’t a like-for-like replacement on the market.
Instead it will be Glass who will hope to benefit from the former Scotland captain’s effect on a team. Teammates at Hibs, Glass’ career took him away from Scotland as he developed as a player and then a coach but on his return from Atlanta he’ll rely on others to help him back into Scottish football. Brown’s hard-earned knowledge of every other team in the division will be invaluable.
His own coaching career is still in its infancy, though he’s been learning the ropes since his mid-20s, and Brown’s initial impact is sure to be as a player. By his own admission, the energetic, box-to-box midfielder has lost a little pace in recent years but he will still set standards that other Aberdeen players will have to work hard to reach.
Glass will also be hopeful that Brown’s European experience, having played more games in continental competition than any other Celtic player, will boost his chances of taking the Dons further in Europe as UEFA’s revamped competition structure offers more opportunity. The manager has spoken about Brown’s mentality, enthusiasm and ambition, as well as his character off the pitch.
But in his comments, Glass also acknowledged one challenge that Brown may face from the moment he arrives at Pittodrie.
“There’s a reason why most of the fans in Scotland don’t like him, Glass said. “It’s because he’s been a huge part of beating everybody else’s team other than the one’s he’s playing in.”
The first part is undeniable but Glass may not have the whole truth when it comes to the reasoning. Brown hasn’t just beaten other teams, he’s revelled in it at times and his provocative, aggressive style has seen him irritate opposition fans more than his equally successful teammates.
Aberdeen fans are no different and that, along with some scepticism about the new management team in general, will mean the first job is to win over the support before turning to bigger ambition. Brown’s support for his then-teammate Aleksandar Tonev when the Celtic winger was accused of racially abusing Shay Logan hasn’t gone unnoticed. Tonev’s subsequent seven-match ban after Brown’s public backing hasn’t been forgotten.
The main job is improving the team’s fortunes on the pitch and if Brown has a role in doing that then his decision to make the move will have been justified. The challenges may be different from what he has been used to in recent years but will undoubtedly be met head on.
That change remains a couple of months off, though, and the immediate concern for Brown is finishing his Celtic career on a high. The disaster of the league season will be put to one side as the team focuses on lifting the Scottish Cup and there would be plenty who would see the sight of Brown lifting a trophy in his final game for the club as the perfect send-off.
Regardless of the last game he plays in green and white, it’s highly unlikely there will be a substantial crowd to see it.
So after drawing an end to a period of his career that’s been marked by big games and big moments, Brown will know there will already be another one to look forward to.
The fixture list will tell him when he can anticipate a return to Celtic Park and a reunion with Celtic fans. It’ll all be very familiar until kick-off, when both sides get on with making a strong start to a new era, and Brown tackles the next stage of his own story.