It is hard not to like Craig Brown. The former Scotland coach has been involved in high-profile football in either a coaching or media capacity for the best part of two decades. His amicable, courteous and approachable style makes him an easy man to deal with and an interviewer’s dream. There is a saying that it is good to see “a nice guy get a break” and if managing Aberdeen is something that Brown and his colleague Archie Knox see as an ideal opportunity, then of course some sympathy goes to fans of Motherwell, but this writer cannot help but wish that all goes brilliantly for them.
Perhaps this is a good point at which to deal with the piece of unfortunate business that has arisen in the last week. Brown had originally rejected an approach from the Pittodrie club and having been approached again and spoken with his family and with Knox, now appears to have changed his mind. Now with the situation having already been released into the public domain, Motherwell chairman John Boyle has an understandable sense of upset that he was not approached in the first instance, and has asked that the appointment be postponed until the two sides have played against each other on 18 December, “we
Brown’s coaching and managerial career is one that has spanned five decades and is now in probably its fifth definitive chapter. While at Clyde, (with whom he later won promotion from the Scottish Second Division in 1982), he was offered the chance to succeed Ally McLeod at Ayr United, an opportunity he turned down and a decision he said this week was “the right one…eventually”. There then followed a decade working with Scotland’s youth and under-21 teams before Andy Roxburgh’s departure in 1993 led to Craig becoming national team coach. The Scotland side of Euro ’96 was probably a close second to the class of 1974 in terms of the best team they have ever had represent them at a major competition, and Brown oversaw their successful qualification campaign for France ’98 as well.
However, after failing to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, the clamour for change was strong. Some took the bizarre position of wanting instant results while also attacking Brown for not bringing through sufficient numbers of young players. The reality was that Scotland were always in with a shout of qualification under his leadership, but never comfortable enough to facilitate an experiment with new blood. In many ways the dynamics of the here and now forced his hand, and the reign of Berti Vogts illustrated that perhaps the supposed riches of young talent were not there for selection in the first place.
A spell at Preston North End followed, where he built the side that Billy Davies would take to within a whisker of the Premier League on two separate occasions. Riccardo Fuller, Eddie Lewis, Claude Davis and Tyrone Mears all went on to subsequently perform on bigger stages and all were Brown signings. When Davies spoke to Sky after winning a play-off semi final, he said “I cannot thank Craig enough for all that he has done for me.” Looking at how much of his personnel had already been bequeathed to him by his ex-boss, these sentiments had a sound basis in fact.
However, after a short spell working with his protege at Derby County, it appeared that Brown had settled into the easy-paced world of semi-retirement and occasional stints of punditry for BBC Radio 5 Live. His calm, reasoned and well-informed tones could not be mistaken for those of anyone else, and the role of match summariser seemed a perfect fit for him. Plus he was well into his sixties by this point, so it came as something of a shock when he and Knox arrived at Fir Park on an interim basis at the start of 2010.
Two manager of the month awards and a charge towards European qualification and the arrangement was extended beyond its initial timeframe. It is perhaps a shame that Well have not been able to reap further rewards for a brave decision in appointing a man of experience, something which goes against the grain of the current football climate. Brown is himself aware of the trend towards searching for the next big thing rather than looking at people who have already shown themselves to be capable, stating in his contribution to a UEFA coaching manual, “It is my feeling that there is discrimination against longevity in football management and coaching. Fewer and fewer experienced managers are being considered for jobs by clubs.”
His own work in making the most of an opportunity later on in his career has added weight to the argument that while bringing young coaches into the game is to be encouraged, this should not automatically mean that the turning of a manager’s 60th birthday equates to some sort of death sentence. Brown still speaks to Sir Alex Ferguson, who turns 69 early next year, he and Knox seeing him as “the benchmark”, while Brown reminds us that “of course he is doing it at a much higher level then us!”
Now he gets the biggest club job of his coaching career and it should be stated that this is not a nice earner or a last payday for two men looking to top up their pension. Aberdeen are a club with a great history (most of it under Sir Alex’s stewardship in the first half of the 1980s) but a pretty mediocre present and they had a bleak immediate future too given the recent slide down the SPL that led to Mark McGhee’s departure. Brown is aware of the size and scale of the task, seeing it as “a better job” than the one he had and admitting to feeling “a bit selfish” for taking it on, but in the knowledge that he has left “a better squad of players at Motherwell” as he acknowledged on Thursday for better infrastructure, bigger support but weaker personnel upon arrival.
However, reviving the club’s fortunes is unlikely to deter a man who has already seen a great deal the game has to offer, “Nothing fazes me now… I don’t get edgy, I don’t get uptight. At my age, so long as you still have the appetite and the drive, you don’t feel any anxiety.” were his words upon taking the Motherwell job a year ago. Even he refers to his age occasionally, and it is worth noting that this is hardly the time in a man’s life to turn down a job they want to do, for the opportunity will almost certainly not come up again. Someone who has given sterling service to many over the years need not feel guilty about putting number one first with the clock ticking, and anyone who is capable of asking “Am I being selfish?” tends, in this writer’s experience, not to be.
It is easy to feel for Motherwell in all this, not least because this is the second of their last three managers who has left them for the same outward destination. Brown stated in an interview on Friday that he and Knox were “eternally grateful for the opportunity given to them by a fantastic club” and took the time to acknowledge the Well supporters and chairman John Boyle, describing him as “an outstanding man, an outstanding chairman, and Motherwell are lucky to have him.” One hopes that those at Fir Park get the right successor to carry on the good work. They also deserve somebody who will stay with them for a number of years, for it is a depressing existence when you feel your club is a stepping stone to somebody else.
However, given time they will hopefully be able to see that Craig had to take this job, as it would be one of those potential regrets that nobody wants to ha