John Collins: 'Poor coaching has cost us place on world stage'

IT is almost 12 years to the day since John Collins stepped into the spotlight at the greatest show on earth and coolly converted a penalty kick in the opening match of the World Cup finals.

His equaliser against Brazil in the Stade de France may have been negated by Tom Boyd's own goal which condemned Scotland to a 2-1 defeat but what would the country give for even such glorious failure now?

While Scotland's lengthening absence from major tournament finals since the 1998 World Cup is a source of deep regret for Collins, it does not surprise him. Indeed, the man who won 58 caps for his country is clear as to where the blame lies for Scotland's depressing decline at senior international level.

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Collins believes the standard and ethos of coaching in Scotland has to improve and change dramatically if the heady days of regular participation at World Cups and European Championships are to be recaptured.

"Nobody likes saying it within the game, but the coaching has got to be better," said the 42-year-old former Hibs manager. "There are good coaches in Scotland, but not enough of them who are pushing technique, skill, passing and moving. We need more good coaches.

"It saddens me that Scotland are not at the World Cup again. Like everyone who loves football, I'd much rather Scotland were there this summer. It's the only place to be. It's not much fun watching from the outside.

"But there are reasons why we are not there. We've shown we are not good enough in recent years. We have to analyse it. We have fallen behind other nations when it comes to technique.

"It starts at grass-roots level, from five, six and seven years old. It's about developing skill, creating two-footed players with balance and co-ordination who are able to master the ball. Once you have mastered the ball, you can take it with your right foot or left foot and turn anyway you want. Once you have given the kids that, you take it on to the next stage and put them into game situations.

"That's when tactics, strength and speed come into it. But that's got to be after the foundations are laid with the kids. I see too many big players from under-10 to under-14 football in Scotland.

"They always get a game at the back because they can kick it the furthest and they are the strongest. That's not what football is about. You have to develop their skills and technique.

"The emphasis has not got to be about winning at that stage. Every Scottish kid I know wants to win when they get on the pitch. So we don't need to talk about the will to win. That's in the Scottish blood, I don't care what anyone says.

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"It is the will to prepare for the victory that we need to emphasise. That's what is vital. That preparation comes on the training pitch and then, when they get to 16 or 17 years old, in their lifestyle as well.

"Players have talent from an early age. You can throw a ball to a kid at four years old and see whether he is naturally quite good with it.

"But, like any talent, it has to be developed. Coaches make players better. So it's not all about players, it's about coaches. Young players need good coaches. "The message has to get through at a young age and the sessions have to be done at a young age. By the time they go to professional clubs at 16, the skill should be there. When they leave school, the foundation of skill and technique should be there."

Collins was speaking at the Toryglen Regional Football Centre in Glasgow as a mentor for five young players being promoted by the Platinum Group and Innovator Sports Management. At the heart of the initiative is the Coerver Coaching method, developed by renowned Dutch coach Wiel Coerver, of which Collins is a devoted disciple.

"Our coaches need to be coached better," added Collins. "Coerver coaching should be all over Scotland. If you develop the coaches, you will develop the players. It's pretty straightforward, isn't it? We have to get back to developing technical players.

"From six to 12 years old, I don't want to see big guys with huge feet playing at the back in a seven-a-side team. They are never going to be football players. But coaches keep them in the team because they can kick the ball the furthest up the pitch and they can head it away. We have to get rid of that.

"Get the little kids playing at the back. Even if they lose all the headers and lose 5-0, they are developing good skills. Football starts at the back and if you don't have good footballers playing there, your midfield players don't develop because they are not getting the ball.

"When I was younger and being coached, I was told to treat the ball like a lady, with care and respect. Look after it. Don't try and kick it and burst it."

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In the first part of his review of Scottish football published three months ago, former First Minister Henry McLeish was damning in his criticism of the youth development system and the lack of facilities. Collins concurs with many of McLeish's recommendations but accepts they will be difficult to implement.

"I was actually reading his review last night," said Collins. "He certainly says what needs to be done, now it has to be put in place. Whether he can do that, or the SFA as a governing body can, or the schools can, remains to be seen. Everyone has a part to play. Facilities have to be improved. We have a great facility here at Toryglen now and need more of them across Scotland. Times have changed since I was a kid. There are countless channels on the telly now, there are Playstations and Xbox, you can watch Barcelona or whoever playing on TV most nights of the week.

"I think I was fortunate that I didn't have TV, Xbox or a laptop computer when I was a kid. I just had a ball. There are more distractions and things for kids to do now and we are not going to change it.

"Credit is here and working-class families can go and get all of those computers or games consoles. We have to deal with that which is why, when they do come on to a training pitch in each town and village throughout Scotland, a coach has to be giving one ball to each kid for large parts of the session.

"Not one ball between 10 or 20 kids who get two touches all session. In the sessions we do with Coerver, they get about 1000 touches in 10 minutes. That's the way we have to go."