Collins' close-up view of the Rijkaard plan

Dutchman's friend has privileged look at Nou Camp method where the ball is the key
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The Independent Football

There must be something about that Monaco sea air that inspires football thinkers. Arsène Wenger, of course, is a famous former resident of the Principality but on Wednesday he will encounter an adversary who has also profited from the relaxed lifestyle overlooking the Mediterranean waters.

Frank Rijkaard's time on Monaco was more low-key than Wenger's. The Dutchman retired there in 1996, just as Wenger was moving into Highbury. Rijkaard spent two years recharging his batteries before taking up his first managerial job as the coach of Holland and formed a friendship with another inquisitive football mind belonging to a neighbour who shared a view of Monaco's famous port, John Collins. The former Scotland midfielder had just moved there from Celtic and quickly became a well-known face in the town as he helped Monaco to a French league title and reach the semi-finals of the Champions' League.

So, when Collins, who is now about to dip his own toe into managerial waters, wanted to learn his new vocation, who better to supply the knowledge than Rijkaard? The Scot, who is just completing his Uefa Pro Coaching Licence in readiness for taking a job in Britain, spent a week at Barcelona watching Rijkaard, his methods and his men.

What Wenger would not give for Collins's insight. Especially as the study week in question involved a Champions' League tie last year against Chelsea. "Frank lived in the apartment above when I played with Monaco so we became friends then," explained Collins, who also moved back there after his retirement from Fulham. "However, Barcelona are swamped by requests to study their training, so I was privileged. I watched training every day, including a closed-door session on the Nou Camp pitch the day before the Chelsea tie.

"I chatted to Frank about what he was trying to do and watched the players put that theory into practice. It was a real eye-opener. Everything was so relaxed and the players loved what they were doing. There was nothing radical but the way Barcelona worked on possession routines was great to see. It was all done in small areas and Barcelona train the way they play, lots of shorts passes and good movement.

"Most clubs do a lot of possession work but the problem is often when it comes to game time, they do not practise what they preach. Arsenal obviously do, but at Barcelona the philosophy is that you must always keep the ball.

"I saw what Frank Rijkaard was trying to achieve before the Chelsea game and it worked. He wanted to stretch the Chelsea back-four, because if your wide men can get their full-backs as close to the touchline as possible, then you have areas in between to penetrate with passes - and when you have someone like Ronaldinho in there, that can damage a team.

"However, it also requires patience and that is part of Rijkaard's plan that people overlook. In that Chelsea match, Barcelona went a goal down. Most people would have hit the panic button because of the importance of the game, yet Barcelona keep playing away and scored twice late on. The team were a reflection of their coach. Rijkaard is cool under pressure. You do not see him on the touchline, ranting and raving. That passes on to players. It was one of the most intense games a coach could get but Rijkaard remained calm and that transmits itself to the team."

Collins will be in the Stade de France on Wednesday and hopes that Rijkaard and Wenger can construct a classic. "I'm really looking forward to it," said the Scot. "Two sides with bright managers who play attacking football. It's the last game I'll see before completing my Pro Licence, and then I hope I'll get a turn soon to put my philosophy over to a team."