'If I think, it could be dangerous,' asserts Scotland's Gazza

Scott Brown has a daft-as-a-brush reputation but, writes Nick Harris, he is serious about beating Italy
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The Independent Football

Scott Brown is under no illusion that he is Einstein. The 22-year-old Celtic midfielder was yesterday preparing for the biggest match of his life – Scotland's last Euro 2008 qualifier, against Italy at Hampden Park on Saturday – by meeting the press, when his team-mate Craig Gordon walked past. "Make the questions easy for him," quipped the Sunderland goalkeeper. Brown has a daft-as-a-brush reputation.

Once, as teenager away on junior Scotland duty, the team management had to empty Brown's hotel mini-bar of chocolate and fizzy drinks because he had confessed: "My mam says they make me go absolutely crazy". He was later heard asking for directions to a shop, pleading: "I need some chocolate and juice!"

Yesterday, asked if he was thinking about this game more than usual, he replied: "If I think, it could be dangerous." And when asked to describe what goes on inside his head when he is producing the kind of driven, match-winning performance that he gave when Scotland beat Ukraine 3-1 last month, he just grinned and looked a bit nonplussed.

Something Homer Simpson-esque was the cheeky suggestion of one journalist, meaning Brown's head would just contain an empty bubble and a wacky tune. Brown laughed and agreed that would be about right.

Luckily for Scotland, ahead of a fixture where victory will send them to Euro 2008, Brown has his nous in his feet and fire in his belly. Anyone witnessing the dreadful tackle on him by Benfica's Gilles Binya in the Champions League last week would realise that. Binya stamped forcefully, studs up, into Brown's lower leg, earning a straight red card. "It was fine," Brown said yesterday of his leg. "It was the stretches I've been doing on my knee that's made it flexible."

Brown craves football for its own sake, regardless of the occasion. In that respect, comparisons have been drawn with Paul Gascoigne. Others in Scotland see inklings of a young Roy Keane. And there could be no better time than now to cement such notions in an international shirt.

Last season, Brown came of age as a club player, inspiring Hibernian to victory in the CIS Cup – their first major silverware for 16 years. Premier League clubs wanted him, with Tottenham and Everton interested. Instead he joined Celtic, for Champions League football. This season he has made a decent transition to that stage and has come of age as a Scotland player, just months after his first competitive international start, against Italy in the Euro 2008 qualifiers in March.

A fine display back then in Bari, in a 2-0 defeat, gives him confidence for Saturday. "I just enjoy playing, no matter what game it is." His manager, Alex McLeish, praised him afterwards. "But you can always do better, eh?" Brown said yesterday.

He insisted Italy hold no fear for him. Already this season he has been part of a Celtic team who beat Milan – including the Azzurri's Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo – in the Champions League. He admitted Saturday "is a wee bit different. It's probably the biggest game that I've ever played in."

But he added: "If we win, we go through. And I think that's the biggest thing Scotland's had in the past 10 years. Everyone wants us to go through. There's a lot of pressure on us to actually perform."

The last time Scotland reached a major tournament, the 1998 World Cup finals in France, Brown was 12. "I don't remember too much, just the whole excitement, going to everyone's houses, the Scotland flags, flags hanging out of cars." He said he feels inspired at being part of a potential repeat. "You've got probably four or five million people in Scotland watching you try to beat the Italians – apart from one or two English maybe.

"And maybe a few others around the world hoping you beat the Italians, because they're the world champions and people enjoy smaller teams going against the bigger teams, and proving them wrong. But we've got a 100 per cent record at home, and they've got to come here and break that."