A man for all *


One of Scotland‘s best living footballers John Collins speaks to Philip Dorward as the national team prepares to tackle San Marino on the road to the European Championship finals.

Two plus two makes live. right'.’ Well it does when you‘re in the media. Celtic and Scotland midfielder John Collins is explaining how he has hurt his back in training and probably won‘t play in the important Celtic-Aberdeen Premier League clash the following day. Nothing sinister about that you might think. but the fact that Collins has been at the centre of intense transfer speculation involving a handful of English clubs over the last year means that he constantly grabs sports headlines with suppositions and premonitions. rather than hard fact

Sure enough. the next day is no exception as the back page of The Sun screams that Middlesborough are ready to pay £4 million for Collins. When that is coupled with an announcement on BBC Radio Scotland's .S‘pm-Isnimrl that Collins is not to face Aberdeen. two plus two definitely equals live.

So what's so special about a 27-year-old fortner Celtic Boy's club protege who started as an apprentice at Hibernian at sixteen. before leaving six years later tojoin Celtic? Well. John Collins is no ordinary footballer. Known as ‘Twinkletoes' to his fans on account of his alleged size 6 boots. he is arguably Scotland's most prodigious football talent

since Kenny Dalglish. He should prove a vital part of

the Scotland squad due to play in the European Championships in England next year.

On the park. his style of play is far removed from the traditionally rough version of a Scottish footballer. There is a continental grace to his game that revolves around passing the ball. rather than hoofmg it. up the park. Some claim he takes his elegance too far and he‘s been labelled a ballerina. but any of his team-mates will tell you he tackles and fights just as hard as anyone else.

He is no prima-donna. rather a potent example of the excellent team spirit that has almost. barring an

earlier disaster against San Marino. taken Scotland to

their second successive European Championship. Despite Scotland's progress. the team. and its manager Craig Brown. have still attracted criticism for changing the traditional style of Scottish international football. Where once Scotland were reckless. and often suicidal. in attack. the current squad has been criticised for being over-defensive. Some have called it boring a charge Collins dismisses. regarding the team‘s tactics as the way ahead for Scottish football.

Despite the team‘s progress. the debate still rages as

to whether Scotland is being left behind as a

t’ootbailing nation. Former Scottish Football Association supremo Ernie Walker is steering a three-year Scottish Football Independent Review Commission. Its aim is to recomn'iend how Scotland can develop its national game.

Collins believes change is crucial. ‘(Javiously there need to be changes at grass roots level and probably in the Premier League where teams play ing each

‘I’m not one of these players who moans about my job or injuries. I love playing football and look forward to every game. The best feeling in the world is scoring a goal and the second best feeling is creating one.’

other four times a season is a farce.' he says. ‘I think

there‘s too much pressure in the Premier League.

especially in the bottom half of the table. where non-


punt-it-into-the-opposition-half football is played ‘The favourite cliche is that the ball is round: it's

meant to roll. not fly through the air. The bottom line

is that around the world there are more skilful teams with better players than [in] this country. The skill in football is passing but unfortunately in this country the ball isn't precious enough and we give it away too easily.‘

Of course it's no mean surprise that Collins supports the passing game - that's w hat he plays and ts most successful at. But there's more to it than that. if you were to boil Collins dow n. the core elements would be honesty and a genuine ioye of the game. As he climbs towards the peak of his career. the. love affair shows no sign of abating.

‘lt's a great time for my carccr.‘ he says. ‘l'ye established myself at international level and in the club side. One thing is for sure. though. I will always enjoy football I‘m not one of these players who moans about my job or injuries. I lose playing football and look forward to every game. The best feeling in the world is scoring a goal and the second best feeling is creating one.‘

if that comment came from anyone else. it might sound insincere. but the fact is that honest John is a football nut who w ill always try his best Still/rind p/trv Sun .iltlr'itm ti: "..ii"//mt (W /5 .vm-m/w (1/ Hunt/trim l’a/‘k .l/riznrr Hum/u. (f/(txgmt‘.

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