Collins: 'I'd be taking a youngster's place'

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The Independent Online

The new Scotland manager, Berti Vogts, may have succeeded in coaxing Paul Lambert out of international retirement, but he has failed in his attempts to persuade the other two midfield veterans, John Collins and Gary McAllister, to follow suit.

Collins was contacted by Vogts' assistant manager, Tommy Burns, last week, but politely declined the offer to add to his 58 caps. "My heart said yes, but my head said no," Collins explains. "I was very flattered to be asked, but I just felt it would be wrong decision at this stage in my career. I'm 34 and I want to concentrate all my efforts with Fulham at club level. Don't get me wrong, I thought about it, visualising myself in a Scotland shirt again, but I had to stick by my original decision."

Ever the gentleman, Collins was equally concerned about the long-term repercussions of a possible return. "I have to say that I would also have felt really bad taking a youngster's place," he says. "I wouldn't be happy if I was starting with Scotland and some older guy came in instead of me, so I don't think I should do that to anybody else."

The same logic was followed by Liverpool's 36-year-old McAllister. "Like myself," Collins confirms, "Gary's wise head would definitely say no. We had our time, and now it's a good opportunity for others to shine." Collinsbelieves he might have helped Scotland's cause in the short term but would have hampered their long-term ambitions. "The manager has got to start looking to the future," he says. "Berti must concentrate on next season and the one after, rather than worry about results in friendlies."

Wednesday sees Scotland take on the world and European champions, France, in Paris. "We have nothing to lose," Collins says, "so this is the perfect opportunity to throw in lots of youngsters and see if they will blossom. If they do, then that will send out a strong message there is a hope in the national team."

While Collins does not advocate the Howard Wilkinson policy of writing off qualification for a forthcoming major tournament to build for future events, he does agree that Scotland should not be obsessed with reaching the European Championship in Portugal in 2004. "You always want to qualify, but the key is to build a solid foundation," he says. "Berti cannot expect to turn things around overnight. He must restructure the whole team, change the personnel, alter the system of play, and integrate new faces. There's plenty of work to do and it will take a while."

Collins plans to play on for one more season, before hanging up his boots next summer. After that, it will be back to Monaco, where he played for two years, to take a long breather from football. Who knows, by the time he is ready to return to Britain, Scotland may be in need of a bright, young manager.

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