THE idea that Scott Brown wouldn’t end his playing days at Celtic had not so long ago seemed inconceivable. Granted, he wasn’t exactly rushing to sign a contract extension, but at the age of 33 it was surely only a matter of ironing out the details. Two more years. Lead Celtic through to the fabled 10-in-a-row, then call it a day. Land a job coaching the kids from the youth academy. The future looked all mapped out for Brown.

And yet, here we are in mid-December and the club captain is yet to pen that new deal. Interest from MLS and, more tellingly, Australia isn’t going away. As things stand Brown is free to talk to other clubs in a fortnight and it’s looking likely he will take up that right to do so. Hard as it is to imagine him playing for anyone other than Celtic in the twilight of his career, it might have reached the point where this becomes the most appealing of all the options available to him.

Brown, for now, isn’t an automatic pick for the starting line-up for the first time since he moved from Hibernian in 2007 for a transfer fee that remains the largest between two Scottish clubs. When Brendan Rodgers said recently that Brown wouldn’t walk straight back into the side upon his return from injury, the presumption was the Celtic manager didn’t really mean it. And yet, Scotland’s reigning Player of the Year found himself starting the League Cup final on the bench, as he has also done for two of Celtic’s following three fixtures.

Players wouldn’t be picked on the grounds of “sentimentality” added Rodgers, lest anyone was still thinking Brown would be afforded special treatment. With Callum McGregor thriving in a deeper midfield role in Brown’s absence, and Ryan Christie emerging as a pivotal presence, the reality began to dawn that perhaps Celtic had found a way to cope without a figure who has been central to almost every trophy won over the past decade and a bit. There is a dynamism about the side that is not always evident whenever Brown plays.

Christie’s injury the other night might offer him a path back into the starting line-up but, based on events prior to that, you can see why Brown might suddenly have had a dilemma to consider. Would he want to see out his playing career as a peripheral figure at Celtic, reduced to cameo roles off the bench and the occasional start? You wouldn’t need to have the biggest ego in the world to consider that an awkward and disconcerting fall from grace.

Or does he save face by taking himself away from Scotland entirely? Pick up a decent wage on the other side of the world in an easier league while providing a new environment and fresh experiences for his family to enjoy? Put it like that and it doesn’t seem that far-fetched a prospect after all.

Brown has proved his doubters wrong before, of course. He had looked jaded and tired towards the end of Ronny Deila’s tenure as manager only for Rodgers to reinvigorate him. There is still no player in Scottish football who can perform that defensive midfield role as well as Brown, the way he can drop back to carry the ball out of defence when the centre-halves split wide, while adding that physical, menacing presence in the heart of the battle. His range of passing has also improved substantially over recent seasons.

It would be foolish to write him off just yet.

This may prove to be simply brinkmanship on both parties to see who blinks first. Perhaps the club just want to send Brown a message that he isn’t indispensable, with the player keen to similarly let it be known he won’t stay unconditionally. Maybe he will end up signing that extension and go on to re-establish himself in the team, undergoing another personal rebirth in the process. Nothing would surprise you with Brown.

If this is to be his Scottish swansong season, however, how will he be remembered? He may not merit a place towards the top end of any complete pantheon of Celtic greats, but for both his longevity and tenacity he deserves to be considered one of the finest players of his generation, and undoubtedly the most influential player in Scottish football over the past decade.

Eighteen domestic honours to date – 17 with Celtic, as well as the League Cup with Hibs – tells its own story, as do the 55 Scotland caps. And, for all he likes to play on the “daft laddie fae Fife” persona, the fact that he was captain of both Celtic and Scotland for such a long period shows what a raft of managers and team-mates think of him as a leader. It would not hugely surprise you were he to eventually move into a management role. That he is the pantomime villain in the eyes of most opposition fans ought to be considered the ultimate compliment. They may not like him but there is a grudging respect for what he does.

Time will tell if it is premature to start writing Brown’s Scottish football obituary but it feels a lot closer now than at any time previously. Celtic will surely come to regret it should they let that come to pass.

YOU just know Jose Mourinho would love nothing more than to silence the Anfield crowd this afternoon and dent Liverpool’s title hopes in the process. His Manchester United side can already be all but counted out in any list of championship contenders but that’s not to say they won’t still have a role to play. United’s form is patchy to say the least but they are more than capable of putting in a spoiler performance to sneak back to Old Trafford with a point or even all three.

Liverpool have been flawless in December but this will be their biggest challenge yet this month. Mourinho would love to play the Grinch by spoiling the party atmosphere at Anfield.