James Collins was born just a few months after Terry Butcher skippered England at Italia 90 and so his memories of the new Hibs manager as a player are limited.
However, Collins is quickly learning about his managerial style and the extent to which he likes to keep training interesting.
The striker has already been forced to make coffee for his team-mates after being deemed to be joint worst player at training, a dubious honour that he shared on that occasion with Owain Tudur Jones.
“The gaffer’s got a great sense of humour, he has a laugh with the boys,” said Collins yesterday. The Hibs player grew up in Coventry, where Butcher alighted from Rangers for a difficult first spell as player/manager shortly after the World Cup finals in Italy. Butcher has since settled on his managerial style and has discovered a way to work that he is comfortable with. Much of it is based on encouraging a good team spirit and being competitive whether out on the pitch on a Saturday afternoon or in training during the week.
The tempo has been upbeat and the players are responding to the change in style, although these are of course optimum conditions – the team have yet to play a game under Butcher. However, the vibes that have been emanating from the players so far are positive ones. While this might have been expected from a former Inverness Caledonian Thistle player like Tudur Jones, who spoke earlier this week about the manager’s “aura”, it is significant that the latest eyewitness account has been delivered by Collins, who was brought to the club for a £200,000 fee by Pat Fenlon, Butcher’s predecessor.
“We have meetings and we have things like the worst player in training has to make the coffees for the staff,” revealed Collins yesterday, towards the end of a second week of working under Butcher. “Little bits like that get the team morale going and gets everyone wanting to work hard and do well for the manager. I’ve had to make the coffees once. Me and Owain Tudur Jones made them because it was a split decision. That sort of stuff is always good for the team spirit. It’s a good set of lads here and I think they’re all an honest, hard-working bunch.”
Collins is one of those players most associated with Fenlon’s reign since the former manager paid such a considerable sum to sign him from Swindon Town.
Both Fenlon and Collins himself might have expected a better return than just two goals by November. However, the player cannot afford to let his failure weigh heavily on his shoulders.
Indeed, the change of manager might be what he needs. Butcher’s wish to play higher up the field and get players into the right areas to score is music to Collins’ ears. “The manager has pinpointed changes he wants – he wants us to push up the park and get a lot more attacking crosses into the box,” he said. “He’s drilled that into us in the past week and obviously he wants us to work harder than the opposition, which we’ve been working on as well. Strikers need opportunities to get the ball into the net, so when you’ve got a manager that wants to get the ball into the box as often as possible then, as a striker, you can’t ask for any more.”
Judging from comments yesterday, Butcher could be leaning towards playing Collins with Paul Heffernan, who has scored three goals in nine appearances since arriving from Kilmarnock.
“In Paul’s career, he’s scored a lot of goals wherever he’s gone,” said Collins. “I don’t know what the gaffer’s going to do for Saturday, or what formation he’s going to play, but if he gives the two of us the nod then hopefully we can hit the ground running. I think once one goes in there will be many more to come.”
Although they share a desire for the players to be as fit as possible, Collins struggled to see too many similarities between Butcher and Paulo Di Canio, his manager at Swindon, which might be heartening news for Hibs supporters.
“Di Canio kept himself quite distant from the team off the park,” he said. “He had his ways. Under Di Canio, you weren’t allowed things like tomato sauce. We’ve had a couple of double sessions last week and this week. The boys are fit here anyway. Nobody’s saying they weren’t fit, but there’s that high intensity now the new manager has come in because we all want to do well.”