Alfredo Morelos doesn’t need to be told that his job is to score goals.
He knows where to be and when, and does not need a manager to tell him how to put a ball past a keeper.
In the days leading up to yesterday’s derby, the only advice Steven Gerrard would have given him would have been ‘Don’t rise to it’.
I’ve not been privy to any Rangers training sessions and I don’t have any contacts in the dressing room, but I’ll bet all the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets that Gerrard would have said ‘Scott Brown is going to wind you up. Don’t take the bait’.
Gerrard was right to say in a post-match interview that Brown set out to antagonise his players. He was wrong to say “The guy who antagonised it all from the beginning deserves to be punished as well. When you’re provoked, it’s only fair that both sides get punished in my view.”
The Rangers boss is an articulate 38-year-old who has enjoyed success at the highest level of club football as a player. The only possible explanations for his comments are a lack of perspective in the heat of the moment or, more likely, pandering to his supporters.
If Brown had been a Rangers player and had goaded Celtic players into losing their heads, would Gerrard have been calling for punishment? Would he not, in fact, be delighted that the opposition had so easily walked into his trap?
Brown himself would surely admit that he’s not the player he once was. He rarely dictates big games these days, and his latest performance didn’t contain a last-ditch tackle like Kristoffer Ajer’s, a cool finish like James Forrest’s or a sublime example of leading the line like Odsonne Edouard’s.
The captain’s contribution was every bit as significant though. His mere presence seemed to rattle Rangers, who surely can’t have been surprised that Brown wanted a reaction from them. If anything, Brown would have been the one taken aback by just how easily Rangers bought it.
Morelos stupidly reacted to Brown’s goading with an elbow, a moment which robbed Rangers of their principal goalscoring threat. Had Morelos been smarter, he would have laughed in Brown’s face and channelled his frustration into harrassing Celtic’s defence.
Dedryck Boyata had one of his shakier outings, and Morelos at his best would have been capable of taking advantage. If the Colombian had done so and ultimately helped secure his side a result, he could have left the pitch at full time with the satisfaction of having got one over on Brown.
Instead, Brown became the living embodiment of Limmy’s famous ‘He got a reaction out of you’ sketch. There was nothing particularly refined about Brown’s behaviour. Laughing in the faces of Morelos and Andy Halliday, celebrating in front of Rangers fans. None of it required much intelligence. All Brown did was spot an obvious weakness in his opponent, and visibly take a great deal of pleasure in exploiting it.
The idea that Brown should apologise or be punished for this is ludicrous. No matter who you support, you would infinitely prefer to have a player like that on your side than against you. As Aberdeen fan @johnnyfitba put it, “It is extremely discomforting to say but Scott Brown did nothing wrong today”. Partick Thistle supporter @Matt24Greer summed up the feelings of many neutral observers, tweeting: “Have to say as someone who has regularly questioned Scott Brown as a footballer, particularly for Scotland, and as someone who has very little time for either of the clubs involved today, that Scott Brown’s behaviour was my favourite part of today’s game.”
Brown may have been warned by Police Scotland not to celebrate in front of Rangers fans, but again I don’t see an issue here. If fans give you abuse for 90 minutes and you get one over on them, you should be entitled to laugh in their faces at full time. I said the same when Neil Lennon cupped his ears in the direction of Hearts supporters at Tynecastle in October, and if I was writing in May 1999 I would have said the same thing about Rangers players celebrating with a huddle at Celtic Park.
If you insult Scott Brown for 90 minutes only to respond with fury when he mocks you, that’s on you. I’d be typing the exact same sentence had the roles been reversed and James Tavernier was celebrating in front of Celtic supporters after a 2-1 Rangers win. While much of Rangers Twitter has been up in arms, there have also been some who took a step back and realised the blame lies with their side for rising to it, and not Scott Brown. “I would want our players windmilling their boabies to the home support if we won tonight. Mock outrage is boring” tweeted @18DM72.
Brown was anonymous during December’s 1-0 win for Rangers at Ibrox. One of that game’s defining images was the defeated Celtic skipper looking disconsolate as Scott Arfield performed the ‘Broony’. Arfield was goading Brown just as Brown goaded Rangers yesterday. Arfield wasn’t in the wrong at Ibrox, and Brown wasn’t in the wrong at Celtic Park.
As Arfield gloated, Rangers drew level with Celtic at the top of the table. Instead of imploding in the manner that Rangers did yesterday, Brown used that humiliation as fuel for a run of form that culminated in Celtic going 13 points clear at the top of the table.
There’s a lesson in there.
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