Scott Brown is approaching an age barrier most players struggle to scale.
But Neil Lennon insists his “gold-dust” Celtic skipper remains undroppable.
Brown turned 34 this summer, but has just produced a pair of Champions League performances against FK Sarajevo that suggested he is as vital as ever to the Hoops.
However, for his gaffer, Brown’s enduring importance as the beating heart of Celtic is no mere matter of suggestion.
“He is outstanding,” said Lennon.
“He was outstanding in both legs against Sarajevo.
“If he was out of the team for any period of time, it would be a serious concern for me, put it that way.
“He is as fit as a fiddle. He still covers the ground and reads the game brilliantly.
“He is a safety valve for us. If he is on the ball, there is a calmness there.
“Scott also sees the danger on counter-attack. He had a great game in midweek, and I don’t take that for granted.”
Lennon’s appreciation of Brown’s craft comes from a place of familiarity, given his own outstanding playing career as a tough-as-nails midfielder.
But he reckons Celtic’s current middle-of-the-park talisman – who penned a new contract with the Hoops in January, ending speculation over a move to Australia – has something he never did.
“I wouldn’t have had Browny’s legs!” Lennon joked.
“I’m more clever, obviously, but he covers the ground.
“Even at the end of the Sarajevo game on Wednesday, he was striding forward. He still has that unbelievable stride where he eats up the ground.
“At 34, there is no sign of him slowing down just yet.
“I know it’s early days in terms of the season, and he had a couple of injuries last season. But his athleticism and fitness levels are still remarkably high for a player of his age.
“Then again, he is a bit different to everybody else. He is just a natural.
“Any running or fitness sessions we do, he is still at the front. He has incredible cardiovascular capacity.
“I still think he could play attacking midfield if he wanted. I have better ones to do that now, but the way he sees the dangers and prompts attacks and switches play . . . he breaks people’s hearts at times, he is so good.
“Those types of players are gold dust to any manager.”
Lennon reckons the boss of the greatest Celtic team he was part of, Martin O’Neill, would have felt the same.
“Oh yeah,” said Lennon, when asked whether his skipper would have coped in his era. “And he has the character.
“I think he is one of the most-influential players at Celtic over the last 20 years. He would be in the top three or four comfortably.
“He would probably have regretted going to Australia as soon as he set foot on the tarmac at Sydney Airport.
“But he is still here, has just won another Treble and is still leading the team from the front.
“I don’t think you ever lose the kind of edge he has.”
Bringing in defensive reinforcements is Lennon’s priority in the transfer market after easing past FK Sarajevo with square pegs in round holes.
Those who were asked to play out of position in midweek – such as Nir Bitton and Kristoffer Ajer – proved themselves more than up to the task.
But the Celtic boss, who is now preparing his side for Wednesday’s clash with Estonian champions, Nomme Kalju, does not believe such a tactic will work in the longer term.
“I prefer Nir in midfield. He is a player who can really kick on this season,” he said.
“I don’t want to be having too many versatile players – a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type thing.
“Ajer at right-back is not ideal, although he did really well.
“Hopefully, as this period goes on, we can get the right players in the right positions.
“I think we are close, hopefully, to getting one over the line. That will be good for next week.
“Sarajevo were a good side. Big, strong, athletic, well-organised, and a little bit agricultural at times. So it was a tough draw for your first-round qualifier.
“But I’m absolutely delighted with what the players have given me.”