No-frills Brown could be carried to the top

Celtic 2 Dundee United 2
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The Independent Football

Celtic's Scott Brown is Scotland's best footballer and will develop into a player who can hold down a starting place at one of the top clubs in the English Premier League. That is the private view of the Scotland manager, George Burley, and according to informed sources his opinion on the 23-year-old midfielder has been taken on board by the Tottenham manager, Harry Redknapp. For now, Spurs have higher priorities in the transfer window, not least the capture of the striker Jermain Defoe. A more seasoned midfielder than Brown is also on the agenda. But Brown is certainly of interest to Spurs for the future, and a price tag of upwards of £9m would not dissuade them from a move.

That £9m figure was floated last week in relation to a possible bid for Brown by Portsmouth, who have scouted him four times recently. Brown has no interest at all in moving to the South-coast club, though, and Celtic have no need to sell, even at that price. But Brown would listen to interest from any of England's "big four" or Spurs or Aston Villa and, if his price tag rose above £10m, Gordon Strachan's assertion that Celtic are not a selling club would face a stern test.

Is Brown worth £10m? Using Scotland's goalkeeper Craig Gordon, 26, and right-back Alan Hutton, 24, as recent guides to Scottish pricing, then yes. Gordon and Hutton moved south, from Hearts and Rangers respectively to Sunderland and Spurs for £9m each. Brown is younger, and better.

Yet for a player of such potential, it is strangely easier to pinpoint far more areas for improvement than stand-out strengths. He does not dribble fluently and his passing could be more consistent. He is not a prolific goalscorer, and can be hesitant, lacking obvious confidence in front of goal, as on Saturday when he made an early chance for himself and struck weakly wide. He is not a great header of the ball and, at 5ft 9in, is hardly a powerhouse, even though his temper (thankfully under control these days) sometimes gave that impression.

But he has a rare persistence in acquiring the ball, retrieving it, and then supplying it in dangerous areas for team-mates to inflict damage. He set up Georgios Samaras' first goal on Saturday after dogged work and lurked as a distraction when Samaras made it 2-0. Brown also had a shot cleared off the line and in the first hour at least made several neat touches.

If glamour is not exactly his thing, neither was it for other players pejoratively labelled "functional". Nobody is suggesting Brown will replicate the achievements of Didier Deschamps, but there is a similarity in their water-carrying roles.

If there is a question mark, it is over producing week-in, week-out excellence. After a debut at 17 for Hibernian, and more than 160 SPL league games to his name, 54 for Celtic since his £4.4m move in summer 2007, he is finally getting there. He struggled to make an impact last season, but there were mitigating circumstances, including the death of his younger sister from skin cancer. But 2009 is shaping up to be his coming-of-age year.

The same might also be said for Celtic's Irish winger, Aiden McGeady, for different reasons. Left out on Saturday as his relationship with Strachan continues to fester, the transfer window beckons, ajar, inviting a leap, or a push, to pastures new.

Goals: Samaras (12) 1-0; Samaras (58) 2-0; Dixon (60) 2-1; Feeney (77) 2-2.

Celtic (4-4-2): Boruc; Wilson (Caddis, h-t), Caldwell, McManus, Naylor; Nakamura (Mizuno, 83), Brown, Hartley, Robson; Samaras (Vennegoor of Hesselink, 74), McDonald. Substitutes not used: Fox (gk), Loovens, O'Dea, Crosas.

Dundee United (4-1-4-1): Zaluska; Dillon, Wilkie, Kenneth, Dixon; Gomis; Flood, S Robertson, Swanson (Feeney, 61), Conway; Daly. Substitutes not used: McGovern (gk), Grainger, Sandaza, D Robertson, Kovacevic, Buaben.

Referee: S Conroy (Scotland).

Booked: Celtic: McManus. Dundee United: Feeney.

Man of the match: Brown.

Attendance: 59,558.

*Kris Boyd scored twice yesterday as Rangers won 3-0 at Inverness to close the gap on Celtic to five points.

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