Scott Brown is Celtic’s only leader and James Tavernier must win derby battle of wills

Those of a melodramatic disposition will say Covid-19’s negative effect on Neil Lennon’s team for…

Scott Brown is Celtic’s only leader and James Tavernier must win derby battle of wills

Those of a melodramatic disposition will say Covid-19’s negative effect on Neil Lennon’s team for next Saturday is a judgement on the SPFL in general, and Celtic in particular, for the way the Premiership was curtailed and then called in favour of Nine in a Row last season.

Such is life on the margins of reality.

Pandemic perspective for me came on the morning I woke up and found my brother mentioned in a front page story concerning Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and a disgraced Westminster M.P., Margaret Ferrier.

A cameo role in a Holyrood blockbuster, so to speak.

What all of this has to do with Saturday’s first Old Firm derby of the season will become apparent.

a group of men playing a game of football: Scott Brown in action with James Tavernier

© REUTERS/Russell Cheyne
Scott Brown in action with James Tavernier

My brother happened to have conducted the church service attended by Miss Ferrier twenty-fours after she had undergone a Coronavirus test.

One day later it was found she had tested positive and forty-eight hours after that the First Minister asked her to resign because of her “Reckless” behaviour in endangering the health of people from Glasgow to London and back again.

The moral to the story is Covid-19 is a “Cunning virus,” to use the National Clinical Director, Jason Leitch’s, description.

Fortunately for my brother and his congregation, a carrier in their midst did no harm, cunning or otherwise, to anyone’s health. Better to have a brother than a bereavement, I would say.

Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard fell foul of the disease on the way to play for France in a Euro 2020 qualifier at Under 21 level. Ryan Christie became collateral damage after being ordered to self-isolate when his Scotland team-mate, Stuart Armstrong, tested positive before the game against Israel and now Nir Bitton has tested positive.

Their availability for the derby next weekend is a less important issue than three young men avoiding a disease which has claimed a million lives worldwide.

Nir Bitton standing on a court with a racket

© SNS Group / SFA

That said, the rest of us can now concentrate on the weirdest Old Firm match in history. No fans. No pubs. Only the absolute certainty of government restrictions on house parties being totally ignored on a widespread basis.

Conversely, there’s a saying which states there are people who would start a fight in an empty house, and there’ll be twenty-two of them on the pitch at an otherwise deserted Celtic Park on Saturday.

As well as two fistfuls of handers, one for each team, if belligerent reinforcements are required.

Charlie Nicholas might think Celtic are cheapskates in the transfer market, but, for me, the most important man in Lennon’s team wasn’t bought in the window now closed.

Graveyards might be full of people who thought they were indispensable, or so the saying goes. But Scott Brown contradicts that belief.

The Celtic captain has more bookings to his name this season than he got touches of the ball against St. Johnstone last Sunday, but he drove Celtic to a win which looked like evading them because he is the only genuine leader of men in the team.

It took him eight minutes in his capacity as the last throw of the dice to prove he was the first among equals at McDiarmid Park.

Brown will, for that reason, one day retire and then become the most difficult player to replace since Henrik Larsson left the club for Barcelona.

It’s no longer about what he can do with a ball at his feet.

Twelve games short of his 600th appearance for Celtic and at the age of thirty-five, it is Brown’s personal battle of wills with his opposite number, Rangers’ captain James Tavernier, which could determine whether the sides draw level on points or if Steven Gerrard’s team go six points clear at the top of the league table.

It is the serial winner, with all of Nine in a Row achieved under his captaincy, against the serial second prize winner.

And it is surely this season or never for Tavernier to end five years at Ibrox without winning a major trophy.

With eight goals in his last eight games, Tavernier might actually start the derby as Rangers’ biggest threat to Celtic’s goal.

The next biggest threat to Celtic’s chances of what would be a significant victory would be Brown not playing from the start.

In a battle that will be all about big hearts and strong minds, Brown is physically and psychologically the best equipped player currently at his manager’s disposal.

I couldn’t bore everyone again with the classic story of the day I thought Broony was going to exemplify his anger with me by depositing my body in Loch Lomond. It’s been told more often than Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

But I can repeat that criticism is, for me, always about business and nothing personal.

My regard for his defining characteristic as a motivator of men tells me his swab tests will be the most important team detail between now and Saturday.

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