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Celtic captain reckons Liam Henderson is on road to becoming Parkhead driving force

SOMETIMES sport, like art, can imitate life.

Liam Henderson has shifted through the gears to break into the Celtic first team this season Photograph: SNS
Liam Henderson has shifted through the gears to break into the Celtic first team this season Photograph: SNS

At the start of this season, Scott Brown was tasked with giving callow Liam Henderson a lift through from the east coast to training at Lennoxtown each day, while the Celtic teenager waited to receive his driving licence.

It was fitting then that at Rugby Park on Friday night Brown should be directing traffic in the congested midfield area as the 17-year-old removed his L-plates as a Parkhead player. Henderson passed his full debut test with flying colours during the 3-0 victory against Kilmarnock, a performance that suggested he could become a driving force for the Parkhead club in years to come.

While it is possible to imagine the odd awkward silence between these two contrasting individuals on those early car journeys, the Scotland Under-19 player is not short of belief in his own ability and Brown likes the cut of his jib.

"I first noticed him at the start of the season," said the Celtic skipper. "I was picking him up for training a few times when he was in the squad, before he could drive. He was very quiet. But then no-one quite knows how to take me the first few times.

"But he is a really nice lad. I have thought all along that he has got a great chance. He shows it in training, he is just a joy to play one-touch football with, passes round the corner as well. He will play off you, go on a mazy run and score goals. It is great. The only problem is he is coming for my position!"

All joking aside, whilst Celtic are gathering a plethora of midfield possibilities - the arrival of Nir Biton and Stefan Johansen has added to Neil Lennon's options - Brown's own form has rarely been better. Celtic's World Cup contingent of Fraser Forster, Efe Ambrose, Emilio Izaguirre and Georgios Samaras may be afforded a late-season rest once the title is wrapped up in the next few weeks, but Brown would rather not be idle.

"We know the finish line is coming," said Brown. "But we just want to get as many points as possible by the end of the season. Personally, I would prefer to play as long as possible. We have a Scotland game against Nigeria on May 28 so I need to try to stay fit for that as well. Last season was unbearable - it's not great when you are coming back on June 24. But that is part and parcel of being at Celtic."

With the opening qualifiers set to be played at Murrayfield - Celtic Park, Hampden and Ibrox are all in use for the Commonwealth Games - Brown, and Henderson for that matter, will not need to commute.

"I love Murrayfield," said Brown, who has attended rugby matches at the SRU crucible. "I don't need to do any travelling for a change. There is a novelty factor and I am sure the fans will travel through."

So comprehensive was Celtic's victory on Friday night that by the end thoughts were stretching beyond this season. No Celtic manager since Jock Stein has racked up four top-flight titles in a row - Brown himself was part of the squad in 2009 under Gordon Strachan which lost out to Rangers - but, regardless of the status of Scotland's other larger clubs, the skipper sees no reason why this squad cannot kick on.

"The lads we have in that dressing room are outstanding and if we can keep the squad together as long as possible we will see where we can go," said Brown. "Missing out in 2009 was hard, losing to your biggest rivals, but the way it is looking now we need to get over the line with the third one, then try to build to four and five."

Other young players will be drip-fed into the first team during the remainder of the season, such as defenders Eoghan O'Connell and Marcus Fraser, and Icelandic new boy Holmbert Fridjonsson, but Henderson has motored into pole position.

"I don't think he is fazed by it," said Lennon. "He is not an arrogant boy, but he has got a self-confidence about him."

The 17-year-old, it seems, is going places.

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