Collymore looks to go one step beyond

The striker who makes his England debut this afternoon has his sights set on glory. Trevor Haylett met him

The footballing icons that first caught Stan Collymore's young eye say something about the man and how he sees himself on the pitch. Michel Platini and Glenn Hoddle were his heroes. Like Collymore they could score goals - wonderful goals - but were capable of so much else besides.

When Terry Venables was asked yesterday what turned him towards the Nottingham Forest striker for the most dazzling of the four England debutants he will parade at Wembley against Japan this afternoon, a slow start soon gave way to an effusive appraisal. Almost all the attributes that go to make a truly great player were covered. Even before the curtain rises, the critical acclaim is pretty favourable.

Alan Shearer's latest international partner has just come out of a splendid, albeit sometimes stormy, first Premiership season with Nottingham Forest, in which he scored 25 goals and made a sizeable amount for Bryan Roy as well. There won't be a second such season because he is on the move. Less than three years after he was going to waste in the reserves at Crystal Palace, Collymore has joined the jet set and is impatient to get to where he wants to go.

While the announcement of an official separation has still to be made, Collymore says he has made his decision and it seems there is no longer is any doubt that it will take him away from the City Ground. Everton and Liverpool are big admirers, as were Manchester United until Alex Ferguson found it impossible to get a telephone to Frank Clark's ear and diverted instead to Andy Cole. Newcastle are also in the hunt. Only those with pounds 8.5m to spare need apply.

If anything, Collymore says the receipt of his England invitation has only produced more peaks for him to climb. "Now I'm here I want to go one step further and win things," he said, after completing final preparations for the start of his country's Umbro Cup challenge.

"I look around the squad and see people like Alan Shearer, Tim Flowers and Graham Le Saux all now with winners' medals, and I want some of that for myself. At the end of my career, I want to look back and be able to say that I won this and that, and that I played in some really big games."

Winning is everything, a colossal wage packet a distant second for the 24-year-old. "I would much rather be on half of what I could earn and know that I am in a team where I am wanted and where I can perform to my maximum," he said. "Money has never been my motivating force. When I left Palace, Wimbledon were offering me more, but only Southend said they wanted me as a central striker."

Palace reserves and Southend: hardly natural breeding grounds for the England side. Football and footballers move at a pace that is often difficult to keep track of, and it is sometimes hard to remember that not so long ago there were more clouds above Stan than silver linings. The kind of player about whom it is said: "Great individual skill, but ... "

As far as the England manager was concerned, most of the important questions had already been answered. "Anyone can see he has excellent ability, so then you ask whether he can turn that into goals," Venables said. "He has scored the amount that someone of his quality should get and he has impressed me more and more as the season has gone on."

It was Colin Murphy, the former Southend manager, who was responsible for reviving a talent that had grown dormant in south London, suffocated by the quick wits and strong minds that were ahead of him in the Palace goalscoring queue, and also by the suspicion that he was not really wanted by Steve Coppell, then manager at Selhurst Park.

It was Murphy who first alerted him to the possibility of an international future, and just as he had been many years before, when as the Lincoln manager he saw the same glittering goal in front of a youthful Mick Harford and John Fashanu, Murphy's lore has been proved correct.

After he left Roots Hall, Barry Fry took over, a manager never in danger of underselling his players, and the relationship was good and productive, if only for a short time. With Frank Clark, however, it is clear that is not always so.

"Frank is different to Barry, he's a lot quieter and while you can't say his methods are not successful, I would be lying if I said I did not want to feel wanted and appreciated," Collymore said. "Before we played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, I had gone three or four games without scoring and the manager said that maybe defenders had sussed me out. I know he was probably trying to gee me up, but it could have been done a little better than through the press."

Given the rub of the green and the space to stretch his legs, there is a fair chance that only nice things will be said of Stan at the end of today.

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