MANY people rejoiced when Paolo di Canio lost his job as Sunderland manager last month, but Hibernian striker James Collins was not one of them.
Although accepting that the Italian’s methods were far from orthodox, Collins explained yesterday that he had learned a lot under Di Canio at previous club Swindon, and predicted a quick return to management for the man who became the English Premiership’s first casualty of the season.
“The sacking really surprised me,” Collins said. “I thought he would be given a bit longer after making all those summer signings, and we all know how difficult it is to gel. I think it was six games in. He’s a great manager and a great coach, and it won’t be long until he is back managing, whether it is in England or abroad.
“He got the best out of the lads at Swindon and left with us top of the league. Maybe his methods might not work for Premier League players, but he won’t change for anyone - and he’ll be back.”
Some players saw Di Canio’s methods as dictatorial, but for Collins the relevant was that they worked. He is sure that he is a better player as a result of his work with the then Swindon boss, but agreed that the formula which proved successful for a time with the Wiltshire team would not necessarily do the trick elsewhere, and allowed a hint of relief to enter his voice when he explained that Hibs manager Pat Fenlon runs a very different kind of operation.
“You can either take it on board and it will benefit you, or you can argue against him and not play. I chose to play football and follow his rules, and his discipline is something I’ll never forget. I’ll use the lessons taught by him to keep improving.
“You had to abide by his rules or you don’t play. So if you wanted to play football and improve then you would abide by his rules. I always tried to do. It was a great learning curve for me.
“Pat is definitely not easy on us: we train hard and need to earn our starting places.
“But it is a bit more hands-off at times here – you can relax while off the pitch, with golf days with the coaches and things.
“Every gaffer has their ways, and Pat’s methods are working here. The gaffer here is not as frantic as Di Canio... He could get quite ‘angry’ - I’ll leave it at that.”
After moving to Easter Road for a reported £200,000 in the summer, Collins got off to a quiet start in Scotland. In recent weeks, however, he has improved -– something he puts down to the arrival from Kilmarnock of Paul Heffernan.
“Paul has come in and he’s been a good signing, with a great goal record and great experience. He’s come in and helped the strikers we already have.
“He does his job well for the team, gets a hold of it, works hard for the team and can score a goal as well. To have that in your side will only benefit the team.
“I think it’s easy to play with Paul.
“He knows his job and does it really well, just as if I played up front with Rowan Vine - they’re experienced players and I think they make your job a lot easier.
“He’s a really nice lad off the pitch. Coming in, to settle straight away was always going to be difficult and him coming in was a benefit to my play and everyone else’s. The goals were always going to come, but they happened to arrive when he came.
“Every striker is under pressure to score goals. That’s the job. When I came up here everyone was talking about Leigh [Griffiths], which is understandable because he did so well last year, but I try not to think about that.
“All that [hype] is out of my hands.
“The chairman and gaffer have shown great faith by paying money for me and that’s even more reason why I want to score as many goals as I can - to repay them.”
Besides the arrival of Heffernan, Collins thinks his improvement in form was helped by the last international break. “Any striker would be lying if they said it’s not on their mind when they are not scoring. When we had the international break I got away to think about it and come back fresh.
“That’s when it all started to come into place. If you get away from the place and come back refreshed it can help you do your job again.”
If he continues to score goals, Collins is hopeful he will be considered for the Republic of Ireland squad. In the shorter term, his aim is to help his team return to winning ways at Partick Thistle on Monday night.