Football: Unique role for the wise head at Parkhead

Phil Gordon meets Jock Brown, Celtic's first general manager, who is working overtime for Saturday's big kick-off in Scotland
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The Independent Online
When Jock Brown was reading law at Cambridge, a benevolent old tutor allowed him time off from his studies to pursue his other goal, as a university football Blue. Days off are a luxury now and football is all to blame.

Celtic's general manager has burned the midnight oil since his appointment six weeks ago, cramming for the ultimate exam: a first in the Premier League. With the opening of the new season in Scotland taking place on Saturday, the man with a unique job in Scottish football knows that the hour has come to prove himself.

The only time the erstwhile lawyer and television football commentator can relax is for 90 minutes tomorrow at Easter Road, when Celtic play Hibernian for the benefit of Sky's cameras. That is when the problems of leading the Parkhead club back to pre-eminence fall into Wim Jansen's lap. Dutchman Jansen has inherited Tommy Burns' mission of trying to halt Rangers' monopoly on the park, but none of the grief off it. That is all Brown's department.

Johan Cruyff described Jansen, his colleague in the the Netherlands' celebrated Total Football side of the early 70s, as "one of only four people alive worth talking football to". Few outside of Celtic's training ground are likely to know if that is true. Jansen does not do media interviews, apart from a few post-match soundbites. That is what he requested when he took the job a month ago and Celtic were happy to comply.

On the back of another frustrating runners-up place last season, the chairman, Fergus McCann, decided that the British concept of football management was too heavy a burden for one man. Having harshly relieved Burns of his share, McCann adopted the Continental general-manager/head- coach partnership at Parkhead. Jansen deals with coaching, tactics and choosing the team; Brown gets the rest - negotiating contracts, conducting all transfer deals, dealing with players' off-field problems and handling the press.

At Celtic, the last two subjects seem to go hand in hand. Brown has spent the summer chasing the tails of errant stars Paolo Di Canio and Jorge Cadete, while the press in turn chase his. Throw in the recruitment of Jansen, three new players, and, even for a man who who has juggled two careers for 20 years, the workload is daunting.

"I haven't had a single day off since I took the job," the 50-year-old smiles. "I have been in seven countries so far, checking on players, but I have always been blessed with a lot of working energy. When I was fully involved in broadcasting and my law practice, the hours were ferocious. However, I have always put myself under pressure to achieve things."

The cloistered calm of Sidney Sussex College at Cambridge University is a million miles removed from the harshness of Glasgow's East End where a 50,000-seat stadium, filled for almost every game stands as a monument to an aching desire for success. But the skills Brown learned there, rather than those shaped in kickabouts with his big brother, Craig, are the ones Celtic call upon.

"I simply was not a good enough player to make it," says Brown candidly. "My dad played for Hamilton, Partick and Wolves, while Craig was signed up by Rangers before going on to Dundee. I did play for Cambridge University though, against Oxford at Wembley. I was the first football Blue from my college in years and my tutor was so pleased that he reorganised my tutorials and let me concentrate on training instead."

After graduating, Brown returned to Scotland where he entered journalism before the twin loves of law and football took over. From Monday to Friday, he could be found in his practice, but on Saturdays it was the TV gantry. He had 10 years as a match commentator at Scottish Television, before the BBC poached him to front their operation north of the border in 1990.

His appointment by Celtic was a shock, though not a surprise when you consider his CV against the general manager's job requirements. "For years I was convinced this was the way for British clubs to go," Brown says. "It's what happens on the Continent, and it's what Wim was used to when he was at Feyenoord. He concentrates solely on the football."

Jansen, however, must open the season without his two best players, Di Canio and Cadete. The pair, who scored 48 goals between them last season, are back home in Italy and Portugal vowing never to return, claiming contract problems with Celtic.

Brown has the task of sorting it out. He has brought a sympathetic approach to Cadete, who is receiving psychiatric treatment for stress in Lisbon, but is threatening Di Canio, who seems to be trying to work his ticket out of Parkhead, with a Fifa ban for the three years left on his contract.

"It's nearly impossible to deal with top players face-to-face," Brown reveals. "Agents and lawyers take over. I have only had one meaningful one-to-one discussion with Di Canio. I don't know what he's being told by his advisers. But I do know that it's going to be Celtic which calls the shots. The club has committed itself to a very big contract with Di Canio, more than he ever received at Juventus or AC Milan, and he will have to honour it."

Likewise, Jansen has let Brown do the deals to sign Craig Burley, Darren Jackson and Henrik Larsson. "Wim didn't even ask how much Burley was costing," Brown insists, "nor does he know what any of the players earn. He only wants me to deliver him the players to the training ground. He's asked about Di Canio's situation and wants him in the team. But he's not going to let it upset him, the way a normal manager would do."

Brown would have been joined in the summer transfer from the screen had Andy Gray not rejected Everton's offer to stay in Sky's Boot-room, but he refuses comparisons with the former Scotland international. "The only thing we have in common is that we've sat in commentary boxes. I know Andy well because we've been on holiday together and he's a natural for TV. But our situation is totally different.

"He was asked to put a team together for Everton, I'm in charge of the structure of the club. I was surprised he was able to resist the offer, particularly since it was Everton, but he's such a gregarious character that he might have found it tough to separate himself from the dressing-room and be aloof as you have to be as a manager.

"He's already got a great job. It's wonderful to pontificate about football without responsibility. But when you are in charge of a team, it's a different matter!"