It’s difficult to envisage now, such has been the success enjoyed in the East end…
Sunday was quite a day for Scott Brown. The Celtic midfielder captained his side to a seventh consecutive league title, hammering Celtic’s fierce rivals 5-0 in the process, before the small matter of this year’s PFA awards was to be setted. Brown was up against John McGinn, Kris Boyd and James Forrest – all of whom have had fantastic seasons – but it was the Celtic captain who was announced as the winner. And rightly so.
Brown has always been a key player for Celtic since signing for the Glasgow club in 2007, but under Rodgers’ tutelage the 32-year-old has really prospered. There’s a real maturity about his game now and his influence on Celtic cannot be understated – of the four matches he’s missed for Rodgers’ side, Celtic have only won one.
In years past Brown’s ability was clear for all to see but his aggressive style of play had to be reined in. The ex-Hibs player was the definition of a ball-winning midfielder, although his competitiveness often led to disciplinary issues. Brown would be effective in big games, but there was always a worry that he could get himself booked or sent off. But this isn’t the case anymore.
This season, Brown’s disciplinary record has improved and it’s been over a year since his last dismissal in any competition. A couple of years ago this would have been unthinkable, but Rodgers has managed to tame Brown and has been able to get the best out his obvious talents. Now, this is partly down to a change in role – more on that later – but this demonstrates the newfound sense of quiet prudence that has come to encapsulate his playing style. It’s an obvious point but if you’re better behaved on the pitch, then you’ll get to play more games. And Celtic need Brown as often as possible in his current form.
Central midfielders are sometimes compared to metronomes and you’ll be hard pushed to find any player who fits that description better than Brown. It seems like everything goes through Brown – whether it’s a the beginning of an attacking phase or sweeping up an errant counter-attack, Brown is there, calmly switching the ball from left to right.
The numbers say Brown is excelling here too. No other Premiership player comes close to the number of passes Brown has made this season and few can match him for accuracy. The Celtic captain has made 2,392 passes in the league so far – nearly 400 more than his closest challenger, James Tavernier. And if Brown plays a pass, it’s almost certainly going to reach its intended target. The 32-year-old has an accuracy rate of 93.7%, which is only bettered in the Premiership by Nir Bitton, who marginally leads with 94.3%.
This demonstrates the change in Brown’s role in the Celtic midfield. Previously, Brown’s primary job in the Celtic midfield was to win the ball back and harry the opposition; now, he is far more focused on recycling possession and the distribution side of his game.
Establishing passes measure how many moves a player starts and in this category, Brown once again excels compared to other Premiership players. An establishing pass leads to a secondary shot assist, which in turn leads to a key pass and then finally a shot. This reveals how influential a player is at the beginning of an attacking phase of play, and it turns out Brown is very influential indeed.
The Celtic captain has made 28 such passes in the Premiership this season – more than any other player in the league. This highlights the strengths of Brown’s game and neatly demonstrates his evolution from a no-nonsense midfielder to a tempo-setting playmaker.
What this all shows is just how vital Scott Brown is to the champions. For years some dismissed him as a hatchet man, who was only good for kicking the opposition and was let down by his technical ability. Clearly, this is not the case anymore. There has been deliberate and calculated decision to evolve his style of play – Rodgers deserves a lot of credit here – and, in hindsight, it appears to have been a masterstroke.
Brown has now joined Henrik Larsson as the only players to ever win the PFA Player of the Year award on two occasions – fine company for Brown, but entirely warranted too. There were nine years between the first time Brown won the award and this occasion – Brown will be hoping he won’t have to wait quite as long for the next one.