An email conversation with John Collins: 'Cup final victory was the best moment of my career'

Masterminding Hibs' Cup triumph; Swapping life in Monte Carlo for Leith; My hopes of challenging the Old Firm
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The Independent Football

This could be a momentous week for Scottish football. As a former Scotland player, do you think the national team can qualify for Euro 2008? Of course they can. It wasn't a great performance against Georgia but it was an excellent result. It will be tough in Bari on Wednesday. But the Italians haven't played well since winning the World Cup and all the pressure is on them. France and Ukraine are also in Scotland's group, so if we qualify it will be our finest achievement in 20 to 30 years. We need all the luck that's going and we've had a bit already.

What's your fondest memory of representing Scotland? There are so many. But Euro 96 was very special to me. We lost the big one to England at Wembley but we came very close and we did the country proud. It was the European finals, but it felt like the whole world was watching us.

In your time in the midfields of Scotland, Hibernian, Celtic, Monaco, Everton and Fulham, who was the best player you played with? Probably one of the guys at Monaco - Thierry Henry, Sonny Anderson, Manu Petit, Ali Benarbia or Enzo Scifo. Gary McAllister and Paul McStay are up there as well. Gary wasn't always appreciated as he should have been in Scotland, maybe because he spent so long in England.

Which manager was the most influential? I enjoyed playing for Craig Brown with Scotland - great man-management and attention to detail. Jean Tigana was superb at Monaco and Fulham. He wanted his teams to entertain and go forward. But I learnt from all my managers. Tommy Craig was a special coach in my first spell at Hibs, then at Celtic and with Scotland Under-21s. I'm delighted he's now my No 2.

How did your first trophy as a manager, when Hibs beat Kilmarnock in this month's CIS Insurance Cup final, compare with your honours as a player? It was probably the most satisfying moment in my football career. To win 5-1 in a final surpasses everything. It was the club's first trophy in 16 years and we took 30,000 supporters to Hampden. They sang their hearts out to "Sunshine on Leith", which is a beautiful song. The Proclaimers are massive Hibs fans. They had tears running down their cheeks.

Are Hibs capable of winning more silverware? We've got a chance to reach another final in the Scottish Cup. We play Dunfermline in the semis. Hibs haven't won the Cup for 105 years so it's long overdue. We'll be giving it our best shot.

Last year it looked as if any challenge to Celtic and Rangers would come from Hearts. Are Hibs ready to take on the role? I'm not saying we'll do this or that to the Old Firm but you must always have dreams in football. If I didn't think we could challenge then I wouldn't have taken the job.

Why did you give up a life of luxury in Monte Carlo to return to Scottish football and weather? Because football is in the blood. When I retired I said I wanted to be a manager one day. My plan was three years out, to spend time with my family. I'm sure most fathers with young kids [now 14, 11 and 7] would do the same given the chance. I trained every day, played my golf three times a week and did my Pro-licence coaching. But there's always a risk when you drop out that you might not get back in at the right level. I'd had some offers and kept turning them down. But the time came in October when it was right for me to come back in.

When you played you were a fitness fanatic but also an advocate of brain over brawn. Have you been able to bring those standards to Hibs? From day one. There's no point going in at a club and not imposing your values, beliefs and rules. Football isn't just about kicking a ball. It's about lifestyle - how you live, eat, sleep, train. I've tried to make the boys here fitter and stronger. A few needed a bit of work doing on their physiques. Some were unhappy. Most have jumped on board and taken up the challenge. We play real football, playing out from the back, through the midfield. The ball's round. It's meant to roll.

Many new managers say the aspect of the job they like least is dealing with agents. How have you found it? The worst part is probably dealing with the media. It just takes up so much time. There's press conferences before and after matches. There will be three radio stations and four TV channels all wanting separate interviews yet all asking the same questions. But it's part and parcel of the job. I don't have much to do with agents because we're not a buying club. Our players don't get massive contracts so there's not much money for agents to make around here.

Taking over in mid-season can be difficult because they're not your players. What's been your experience? I'm not taking all the credit for how well we've done. I took over from a good manager, Tony Mowbray [now at West Bromwich Albion]. Tony had a very similar philosophy to me so I haven't had to come in and teach them how to play too much. I've brought in a few free transfers, trialists and non-contract players. I've let seven go on loan, plus one we sold to Rangers [Kevin Thomson]. I just need to get some players in during the summer now, but there's no money to buy anyone.

When you assess prospective signings, what qualities are you looking for? I'll tell any new recruits what I've said to players here, whether they're under-17s or whatever: I don't care how old you are. All that bothers me is whether you can play football. We've had several teenagers who've done well, also foreign boys such as Benji [Abdessalam Benjelloun], a Moroccan striker. He was a bit-part player but he has blossomed these past three months. I'm already busy watching players and speaking to contacts, ready for next season. We've got Clayton Donaldson coming from York City on a free. He's got pace, hunger, scores goals and is a great lad.

Managers often say the job is a poor second to the buzz of playing. Do you agree? They're very different roles. You can't really compare them. I loved playing. Last year I played in a seven-a-side works league in Monaco. I join in now and then in training. Last Friday I played for my home-town team, Gala Fairydean, against our under-19s. I wanted a closer look at the kids. They won 3-2 and there was a fantastic crowd of 2,200. The Hibs boys were all trying hard to impress me. And to nut-meg and kick me. I planned to come off but there were a few injuries so I played 90 minutes. My legs are killing me now.

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