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Brown now understands which lines not to cross

Scott Brown cannot see any signs of decline in the graceful aplomb of Andrea Pirlo, but he is not daunted by his opponent's enduring acclaim.

Scott Brown is relishing the opportunity to measure his progress
Scott Brown is relishing the opportunity to measure his progress

That kind of mindset has never been able to impose itself on such a rugged and spirited competitor as the Celtic midfielder, and he can also be encouraged by his own development. The two players have faced each other before, and while the Italian is celebrated for marshalling the same gifts so expertly, it is the changes to Brown's game that are significant.

Invited to describe his younger self, Brown smiled knowingly and said: "Do I have to?" There has never been a moment of respite during his time at Celtic, and it must have felt at times as though every fault was pored over.

The player who signed from Hibernian in 2007 was impetuous and often reckless, but there was enough trust in his ability for Gordon Strachan, the Celtic manager at the time, to play him against AC Milan in a Champions League group game early in his first season, when Brown faced Pirlo.

They have also encountered each other on the international stage. Brown ought to be well versed in every skill of which Pirlo is capable, but there is no obligation to be lost in admiration. Brown has endured long periods of injury and doubt during his time at Celtic, so there is a certain measure of personal triumph in the fact that he will lead the side against Juventus, having recently captained Scotland under Strachan. The shrewdness, and the less frantic nature, have been hard earned.

"Since [2007], I have matured," Brown said. "I'm not getting as many bookings and I've learned everything about how to play in midfield. Back then I was young, keen, I ran about and was willing to chase everybody down, but afterwards you notice that you do leave holes. If I was playing central midfield, it was easy enough for their midfielders to create a little chance or find an area at the edge of the box if I pressed too high up the park just on my own. That's what [teams such as] Juventus and Barcelona want, to see you take a step out of your position so that the midfielder or the striker can find space.

"When I was younger, I had a lot of carry-on in my head. It's still good to have some banter with the lads, but I know when it stops. Once you cross the line, everything becomes serious. I've had hard times and good times, everybody gets that at the club. I look back at the tough times and I love to prove doubters wrong. I thrive off people giving me abuse and saying I'm not good enough, it builds me up to be a bigger person."

Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, talked of the potential for a "war of attrition" in midfield. The prospect would appeal to him since he was a ferocious competitor himself in that area of the field, but he can still appreciate it as a manager. If the centre of the pitch is lost to the hurly-burly of harassment and tough tackling, Pirlo will have less room in which to control the tempo of the game.

Few midfielders so effortlessly find space in which to compose their work, and even when Pirlo is man-marked, the central defenders, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli, are capable of carrying the ball forward from the back three and initiating attacks with their own impressive range of passing. Even so, paying specific attention to Pirlo is a basic requirement of facing Juventus.

"He's technically very gifted and one of the best," Brown said of the Italian. "We've watched a lot of DVDs recently and he is the one who seems to make them tick, he gets on the ball, he passes it long and short, and he's still got the ability to beat a man. His free-kicks and shooting are just as good.

"If we can put a guy on him to stop him playing that will help us a lot. Over in Italy it's a bit slower than it is in Scotland, we seem to press higher up the park and close everyone down; it's pretty much a free for all everywhere. They're more technical, they try to get the ball down and play football, so it will be a good game for us."

Having defeated Barcelona at Celtic Park this season, the home side have the right to be convinced about their ability to cope with any opponent. "Hopefully now," Brown said, "teams don't just think that we're here for the beating."

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