Collins Exclusive

Thursday 21 March 2002

From Ian McCulloch...

If you had a bit of a hamstring problem that was niggling away at you, what do you think you might do for it? Rest it perhaps? Take it easy for a bit? How about a gruelling long-distance run in the morning, followed by a twenty-minute high-speed static bike ride after lunch, finished off with another marathon in the afternoon, but this time at an even faster pace?

Well that's how John Collins spent his Wednesday. His problem wasn't serious, but as a precaution it was decided he should spend the day under the influence of fitness coach Roger Propos, rather than get involved in the match situations that the First Team were practicing. Let me tell you, that was not the soft option!

Fulham Today caught with the Scottish midfielder halfway through his punishing bike session to get his thoughts on the Everton and Tottenham games. The fact that he still had the breath left to talk bears testament to the man's remarkable fitness.

He quickly played down any suggestions that his own recent good displays have in any way made up for the disappointing results.

"I'm happy with my own performance in the last few games," he said, "But at the end of the day it's a team game and it's the team result that counts. We've had disappointing results - the Cup game was obviously a good one - but it's important that we quickly get back to winning ways.

"It's been a disappointing camp this week after the defeat, but the most important thing in football is the next game. We've now got a great opportunity at home - our home form has been good - and we owe Tottenham one. They got a result against us in the Worthington Cup that we should have won, and they beat us fairly convincingly at their place. But both teams are going into the game off disappointing league results, and it's very important that we get back to winning ways. What Tottenham's form is like is not important to us, it's how we play, and if we play as well as we're capable of, then we'll win the game."

Collins went on to say that despite the disappointment confidence was still high.

"If you look at it, " he said, "We've been beaten in games but we've deserved to get more out of them. We lost 2-0 to Liverpool, but that flattered them - we deserved at least a draw; we went to a tough away game at Chelsea and played ever so well, and a late, dubious, goal beat us; and then we've got beat 2-1 at Everton where we've spent the last sixty minutes of the game camped in their half. We've lost the games but we haven't been outplayed in any of them - they've been very close. But now we have to play even better and get the three points."

Collins has looked very comfortable playing in the holding midfield role in the last three games. One of the problems for the team is that there are a number of players in the squad who covet that position. Collins explains that it is his preferred spot, but basically he is happy just to play.

"Everybody wants to play in that role, but in all honesty I think that's my best position at this stage of my career - sitting in front of the back four. You can play with your head in that position, read situations and see the ball coming to you and spread it around a bit. But at the end of the day I'm happy to play wherever the manager decides. The most important thing is that I'm in the team and the team's winning games, but I have enjoyed playing there in the last three matches."

The midfielder's recent inspired performances have even brought him to the attention of the new Scottish manager Bertie Vogts.

"I had a phone call from the SFA last week, " said Collins, "and Bertie's number two asked me if I was at all interested in coming back, and if I was then Bertie would come down and speak to me. But I think it would be the wrong move for me. I said thank you, and took it as a huge compliment - to be 34 and to be asked back into the Scottish squad is really something. But I made the decision a couple of years ago to retire and it would be the wrong thing to change that.

"It's the opportunity for some younger players now, and I would hate to take that away from them. If it was me, losing an opportunity to a 34 year old, I'd be very disappointed, and I don't want to do that. I was tempted - the heart says do it - playing for your country is the ultimate for any professional football player, but I had ten great years with Scotland. I've fantastic memories and I ended on a high with victory at Wembley and I don't want to tarnish that memory."

But what about the injury? How serious is it, and is all this work really the best thing for it?

"My hamstring has been a bit tight for the last seven or eight days, so I've missed a couple of days' training. I've been running today - it still feels a little bit tight but by Sunday I'm expecting it to be ok.

"I did five laps of the main training area this morning - that's a twenty minute run, four minute laps, and then this afternoon I'll do twelve laps of the smaller area, but at a faster pace. It's a typical Roger Propos day - nice and easy!" laughed Collins.

It's important now not to underestimate Tottenham on Sunday. They may be on the back of a dreadful run, but that counts for nothing in football. As Collins says, all you can do is make sure that your own performance is good enough, regardless of the form of the opposition.

"They've got a lot of good players and they're a good team," said the Scot, "But since they got beaten in the Cup Final they've been on a disappointing run. They're in the same position as us, and they'll want that bad run to end on Sunday.

"It's impossible to say whether it's a good time or a bad time to be playing them. I'm a firm believer in the fact that it doesn't matter how the opposition have been playing leading up to a game, good, bad or indifferent, it's how we as a team perform.

"They're reported as having a few injuries, but you can't read too much into that either. Injuries create an opportunity for someone who's been out, who's hungry, with something to prove to the manager, and sometimes that works very well for a team. New players come in with a bit of desire and hunger, and are desperate to do well and it can be very dangerous.

"But we are confidant we can get the victory on Sunday. With just one more win we can stop looking over our shoulders and start to look at getting back into the top half of the table again. I hate looking at that league and seeing ourselves in the bottom half because I know we're better than that."

There are a few old scores to settle with Spurs. As long as the rest of the team reflect Collins' determination, and Roger Propos leaves the talented midfielder with some energy, then Sunday should be a very pleasing day indeed.