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Collins is 'Footballer of the Month'

last updated Friday 15th September 2000, 9:56 AM
'Super' John Collins is the Evening Standards first 'Footballer of the Month' winner of the new season

Juveniles come in all ages, and many of them are to be found playing professional football. John Collins is an exception, which is not meant to make him sound like somebody's grandad. But there is an impressive stillness about him, hinting at a steadiness of mind which told him that dropping down a division to join Fulham this year was a pretty cool move.

Already it is bringing rewards. Collins's presence has played a pivotal role in Fulham's club record-equalling six straight wins to start the season.

The ultimate prize of a Premiership place is some way off, but the former Scotland midfielder was the runaway choice for Standard Sport's first Footballer of the Month of the new season.

"I couldn't have asked for a better start," said the 32-year-old in his clipped Borders accent "It's just what we hoped for. We're not getting carried away but the hard work is starting to pay off."

The only disappointment is that Collins is suffering with a groin injury, and is unlikely to be fully fit for tomorrow's trip to Nottingham Forest.

And yet, in its way, even that is indicative of the brave new world at Craven Cottage. As is now well-known, Collins would not have contemplated the £2 million move from Everton were it not for the arrival of Jean Tigana as manager, and part of the Frenchman's philosophy so esteemed by Collins is that injuries are not rushed.

But even allowing for the temporary absence of the talismanic Scot, the excitement around the club is tangible. Every now and again, such a magical time visits a club, sparking off a wonderful sense of purpose and destiny.

Fulham is such a place, due to the imaginative choice of manager and his ability to get players such as Collins on side. Intriguingly, Collins has almost nothing to say about the reticent Tigana as a person, but professionally cannot praise him enough.

"I never like talking about people at a personal level, although Jean's a nice guy, an honest man," he said. "Obviously I really admire the way he believes football should be played."

"The two of us think the same way about how we like a team to play. He has assembled a great team around him who are here morning until night every day of the week. I've never seen anything like it."

"It's proof of what Jean told me about his plans to make Fulham into a big club to challenge the best. It sounded a great project and it is why I came. "

"Yes, it meant less money but that's not everything, is it? The satisfaction if we make it to the Premiership will be fantastic."

In that context of course "less money" is still a fairly gobsmacking wage, and the Collins family have just moved into their new Surrey home. All the same, a footballer who says money isn't everything - whatever next? But then Collins is atypical of the breed in so many ways. He made sure he hung on to the French he learned during his time under Tigana at Monaco by subscribing to a French television channel on his return to Britain.

He goes back regularly to see friends, and his children are bilingual. Thus he is now able to translate Tigana's instructions to the squad when the vagaries of language get in the way, although insiders at Fulham say Tigana's English is rather better than appearances in front of a microphone suggest.

Collins' own voice is surprisingly quiet. You have to lean forward to catch most of what he says, and it lends weight to the impression of composed authority he exudes. You can imagine the younger players at Fulham finding his presence particularly steadying, and Collins makes a point of mixing with all the players, senior and junior. The day we met he was sitting around the lunch table with half-a-dozen of the younger squad members, characteristically doing as much listening as talking, observing and assessing those around him.

Even his face adds to the watchful impression. Close to, fine lines make him look older than 32. If you didn't know, you could take him for an extremely fit 40-year-old (sorry, John).

Yet coupled with his demeanour, it underlines the feeling of cool-headed dependability about him. And when he talks of Fulham's prospects, he deals strictly with unromantic facts.

"If you're going to make a small club into a big one, you need a few things in place. You need a chairman whose got money and is prepared to invest it. You need a good manager, decent facilities."

Not to mention a player like Collins, to contribute a level of sophistication which is vital at this hopefully transitional time.

"Yes, I suppose so. I've been around and inevitably I notice the standard is different here, but it's bound to be. I enjoy passing on tips to the younger players and the older ones, too, if they want it."

"I like constructive talk. I think players have to be told to relax when in possession. They don't have to try to score every time. You can tire the opposition by keeping possession and then pick your moment."

That patience is Collins' style all over. Now he has brought it to Fulham. If good things come to those who wait, then Fulham's time has indeed come.
Source Evening Standard
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