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John Collins' Master Class

last updated Thursday 31st August 2000, 7:39 AM
When Scotland last stood at the foothills of World Cup qualification, it was sherpa John Collins who cleared an initial passage with the first goal of a victory in Latvia.

As Craig Brown prepares for another assault on Riga this weekend, his former on-field lieutenant is directing a different expedition at upwardly-mobile Fulham.

Collins was lured away from Walter Smith's Everton by the prospect of becoming a Premiership pathfinder for former Monaco mentor Jean Tigana.

The Frenchman was brought across the Channel this summer by Fulham owner Mohamed al-Fayed to steer a squad, on which the Harrods boss has lavished millions, into English football's promised land.

Not possessing a word of English, or much knowledge of the Nationwide League, Tigana immediately turned to Collins to act as a 'conduit' between him and the players.

The latest, and perhaps final, stage of al-Fayed's revolution had commenced and Fulham legend Jimmy Hill yesterday attested to the significance of the Scot's role.

'It is such an advantage for Tigana to have Collins at his side,' Hill told Soccernet. 'He is a very special part of the new Fulham under the new manager.

'Collins was an inspired buy because he can do a teaching job on the pitch. Tigana wanted someone who is respected and can play the game the way he wants it to be played. 'But he also wanted someone who could do the job that he can't do himself, and that's going onto the pitch and making things work after kick-off.'

Four straight victories, which have been illuminated by two goals from the erstwhile Hibs and Celtic midfielder, have propelled Fulham to the First Division summit and Hill, a former player and chairman at Craven Cottage, is impressed by the precision passing game insisted upon by Tigana.

Equally commendable, however, has been the attention to detail which the former French international midfielder has demanded behind the scenes.

Doctors and dieticians are employed to ensure the squad, which also includes former St Johnstone winger Kieran McAnespie, eat and drink the right things at the right times.

Pre-season training was conducted at Clairefontaine, the envied French national training headquarters in the heart of the beautiful Rambouillet forest.

Had Fulham's players required inspiration during the strength-sapping fitness sessions, they could have gleaned it by glancing towards a 20ft-high replica of the World Cup which stands in the grounds of the camp.

Tigana, a postman's son from Mali, can point to Euro 2000 winners David Trezeguet and Thierry Henry as beneficiaries of his methodical approach.

The manager's attention to detail has included the construction, funded by al-Fayed's fortune, of a man-made hill at Fulham's Motspur Park training base upon which Collins and Co run up and down to hone their stamina levels.

The mountain coming to Mohamed? Perhaps.

Hill believes the club owner could be looking down at the rest of the First Division next May with Collins, still only 32, having contributed massively to the promotion campaign. 'I've seen Fulham twice already this season and Collins still looks superb,' said the veteran broadcaster. 'He has learned the game well, still has the capacity to play it and makes maximum use of what he has learned.

'Fulham are playing a continental passing game and, although every player can't acquire that game in a day, they are doing their utmost to adhere to what Tigana wants. 'Collins has been a very astute purchase, and he has proved conclusively that he could still play at a level much higher than the First Division.

'If you are fit enough, which he is, you don't need to be a sprint champion to play football. He still thinks quicker than the rest and will never lose that knowledge.

'He controls the team and the tactics from the middle of the field and he has been terrific so far. I was in the Fulham side which once reached third in the old First Division, but I would love to see this team overhaul that achievement.' Tigana, who sold his Bordeaux vineyard before moving to London, may have cause to raise a glass to his close friend before the season is out.

Whether a Scotland squad without Collins possesses the bottle to scale another World Cup summit as they set out in Latvia on Saturday, is uncertain.

'I think it's possible to qualify because there is great spirit in the Scotland squad,' said Hill, once regarded as the Nemesis of the Tartan Army.

'They beat England last year and the lads want to play for the manager. The graph of players coming through is also rising steadily for Scotland.' So Scotland, like Fulham, could be in the ascendancy despite the decision of sherpa Collins to forsake the international cause to concentrate on club matters.

His decision may well be vindicated as he charts Fulham's progress, much as he once for did for his country, in an increasingly upward direction.

Source soccernet by Roger Hannah
Since 1998
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