It was from a comforting place, of deep certainties and contentment, that Craig Brown suddenly re-emerged in the competitive heart of Scottish football. Five years had passed since his previous management job when Motherwell appointed him in charge of a team last December that was reduced to a state of anxiety. He was 69, his knees were a little more troublesome and his hair was a little greyer around the temples, but then Brown has always been most adept at confounding assumptions made about him.
Motherwell might yet qualify for the Europa League and a run of 12 League games undefeated after Brown's first match in charge saw him win consecutive manager-of-the-month awards. It has been a form of rejuvenation, for the club and Brown. We had come to accept that his connection with the game was limited to working in the media and reaching into anecdotes and wisdom accumulated during his 47-year career.
The return to Motherwell was temporary at first, but he has been so successful (he was anticipating a struggle against relegation, as the team had not won in eight games when he arrived) that his contract has been extended until the end of next season. There is a sense of Brown redefining, with the measured air of a man who has long forgotten the need to be in a hurry, something of his standing.
"When we went to Motherwell, the manager at the top of the Scottish Premier league was the oldest, Walter Smith," Brown says. "The manager I thought was going to win the Champions' League, until Wednesday, is the oldest manager, Alex Ferguson. Harry Redknapp, Arsène Wenger and Roy Hodgson are all over 60. You should not discard experience too readily."
There was a brief sense of incredulity when Brown was appointed, given the distance from his last direct involvement with management. Motherwell's squad is young, and even the club's goalkeeping coach, Stewart Kerr, played for Brown's Scotland Under-21s. He is a highly-respected figure, held in great affection, but the geniality can obscure a sharp football mind.
In Motherwell's run of 12 undefeated games, they conceded only three goals. Defeats in the last two games apart, the impact of Brown and his irascible 62-year-old assistant, Archie Knox, has been assertive.
"I can remember the first meeting with the players," Brown recalls. "I said, 'look guys, it's a great job, you get paid for keeping fit, but you look miserable. Get a smile on your faces'. Then Archie said, 'and I'll just fucking knock it off'. I have a couple of sons who are just a bit older than them, and Archie and I are young at heart. And when you've had to play Brazil in the opening game of the World Cup, preparing your team for an SPL game is not quite as demanding."
Brown is the last manager to lead Scotland to a major championship and time has brought a re-evaluation of his work. By the end of his eight-year reign in charge of the national team, he was considered too amiable, too familiar, but the country's failure to qualify for the World Cup or European Championships since 1998 is an enduring regret. He believes, though, that Craig Levein can lead Scotland to Euro 2012. "I genuinely feel that we've got an outstanding chance of getting into the play-offs," he says. "[Levein] was the popular choice of the fans, the other managers and the media. When I got the job, they were saying, What are they doing? I was viewed with suspicion."
Brown remains an avid follower of international football, and in Fabio Capello he is convinced England have a manager capable of asserting the priorities and imperatives required to win the World Cup in South Africa. Having lived south of the border since joining Preston in 2002, Brown also doesn't share that inherent prejudice so often apparent in Scots against English success in the game.
"You can't fail to be impressed by Capello," he says. "Not because he banned mobile phones and smartened the players up, just because of his overall handling of the situation. England have a real possibility of winning. I'm not one of the guys who thinks that because we're Scottish, we want England to fail. Let England do well, but we'll still beat them when we play them."
Win! VIP tickets to meet Hurst and Shilton
Two readers have a chance to win VIP tickets to a special event, where they will meet and have photographs taken with Sir Geoff Hurst and Peter Shilton. At Stamford Bridge on Wednesday 19 May, Brainwave, one of the UK's leading charities working with children with disabilities and development delay to reach their full potential, will host a World Cup dinner. The event features "Beat the Goalie", giving people a chance to score past England's most-capped player, goalkeeping legend Shilton. Also, 1966 hat-trick hero Hurst will take part in a Q&A, and guests have a chance to have their picture taken with the match ball he belted past West Germany in the final. To have a chance of winning, answer this question:
In which World Cup was the infamous Maradona "Hand of God" goal?
Email your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org by noon on Tuesday 13 April. Please include your full name and address.