Friday, January 28, 2011

League Cup: Shades of Brown

Snippets from a radio interview on Wednesday night seemed to offer a glimpse of the dualism of Craig Brown's career.

First there was the promise of a new signing at the start of next week. An English Premier League player no less, set to feature in the FA Cup this weekend before moving north on loan.

This was Brown the conjuror, the ageing maestro sprinkling the SPL with his magic. A league so moribund that at times since he took over at Motherwell and then moved on to Aberdeen he's seemed to reinvigorate it with consumate ease.

And then there was talk of the upcoming League Cup semi final with Celtic. Talking about the last clash between the two sides Brown noted that Aberdeen had outperformed Celtic in various Opta tracked measurements.

This was Brown the hard to love Scotland manager. The man who could find a positive spin on an abject defeat to Morocco, who would justify his loyalty to older players with ever more tenuous claims about "statistical" victories all over the pitch.

His reinvention as the grand old man of the SPL has been fun to watch for those who like Brown and for those who have only realised with hindsight the blessings he brought as national manager. But it might not play quite as well with others, with those who look back on that horror night in Saint-Etienne when Morocco drove a fleet of buses through Jim Leighton's near post and remember only the pain and the anguish and a manager in denial.

Which explains perhaps why Brown is still not universally loved. But there is, I suspect, a growing fondness, an increasing respect.

Because since his surprise reinvention as a club manager with Motherwell, Brown has performed admirably. As he prepares to lead Aberdeen into a national cup semi final he can already reflect on a job well done since taking over at Pittodrie.

13 points gained in the league and only one defeat might not sound much. But Brown has eased relegation woes and brought solidity to a club that seemed to lurch from crisis to crisis. In his first six games Scott Vernon and Chris Maguire scored ten goals between them. Just ask Colin Calderwood how hard a trick that is to pull off.

The mysterious player from down south - was Brown ever such a media tease when he was with Scotland - is likely to be another product of a deep knowledge of the English game and an enviable contacts book, both of which he shares with Archie Knox, his astute choice of assistant in a veteran double act.

His signings so far for Aberdeen include Nick Blackman on loan from Blackburn and Robert Milsom who was released by Fulham. There's little reason to suggest they will be less successful than some of the useful players - including Blackman - he picked up at Fir Park as he showed an admirable agility to operate within the Motherwell budget.

To prove the point Blackman scored on his debut on Wednesday night.

Motherwell. Poor Motherwell. The spurned lover in the Brown-Pittodrie romance. And now having to watch Nick Blackman pull on the red shirt as well.

It wasn't a great moment for Brown, his departure from Lanarkshire. The way he handled it was poor. And out of character. As far his sport is concerned Brown has always given the impression of probity and honour, of being a man of his word. The whole episode was shoddy and meant his career with Aberdeen didn't get off to as smooth a start as he would have liked.

But a man who took Tosh McKinlay to two major championships is obviously used to having unwanted luggage to haul about when he embarks on a journey. In his defence, the managerial merry-go-round, the broken promises, the switched affections are part and parcel of football.

And with Brown you know you are getting nothing less than a football man. A man steeped in the game, a manager with a deep love of football who has retained all his enthusiasm. Which is why he remains such a refreshing addition to the SPL even as he approaches his 71st birthday.

It's early days for Brown at Aberdeen. The semi final is another test to be negotiated. But the results so far and his recruitment policy are grounds for optimism.

Brown perhaps missed the most important statistic from that defeat to Celtic. The 1-0 loss was an eight goal swing in Aberdeen's favour since the two sides met at Celtic Park in November.

Now that's progress. If he keeps up at this rate Brown might just be savouring one of the best results in his career come Saturday night.

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