Collins: Scotland should be building new generation, not new stadium

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The Independent Football

The price of World Cup failure was visible for anyone who looked closely at Hampden Park last Saturday evening. Craig Brown paid for it with his job; the Scottish Football Association lost £15m in potential revenue; the real bill for damages, though, is £67m.

That is what it cost Scotland to revamp a national stadium which, like Brown's team, did not measure up when it was needed most. The churned up turf against Latvia – a result of two Robbie Williams concerts in August – ensured there was no chance of the Scots entertaining anyone in Korea and Japan next summer.

Rod Stewart – Scotland's biggest fan – played his part in their downfall. Along with Bon Jovi, Mike Tyson and many others. The company which now runs Hampden – after the publicly funded stadium went into receivership a year after re-opening its doors in 1999 – now stages everything from boxing to gridiron.

Few seem inclined to take over the lonely furrow Brown ploughed for eight years. All week, candidates such as Sir Alex Ferguson, George Graham, Alex McLeish and Graeme Souness have ruled themselves out. Scotland, according to one of their most celebrated players, is reaping what it sowed in that £67m field of broken dreams.

"The money that was used to build Hampden should have been spent on developing youngsters," declared John Collins, whose penalty against Brazil at the opening of France 98 is a memory which will have to sustain his country when they watch the 2002 finals on television.

Collins' own skills provided entertainment at Celtic, Monaco and Everton before settling at Fulham, where he is now player-coach. He retired from international football in 1999 at the age of 33, after 58 caps, to preserve his energy. Scotland, though, have failed to match Collins' long-term planning. "We never needed a new Hampden but we do need indoor facilities," he said. "The lack of raw material is probably putting some experienced managers off the Scotland job but we have to tackle those issues now or the same problems will still be there in then future. Scotland needs to get the infrastructure in place and we have to be patient, because talent does not grow on trees. Failing to make the finals is not the end of the world, as long as work is going at youth level – France proved that."

Collins was part of the Scotland squad which denied the French a place at the 1990 World Cup, yet eight years later he was playing alongside the new generation who provided the crowning glory. "Thierry Henry, Fabien Barthez and David Trézéguet were team-mates of mine at Monaco when France won the World Cup in 1998," the Scot recalls, "and Emmanuel Petit had been in our title-winning side the previous season before moving to Arsenal. These players did not blossom by accident. The French spent 10 years getting their system right and Roger Lemerre today is reaping the benefit of the hard work underneath him from all the guys at youth academies.

"The quality of youth coaching is crucial, but so too are the facilities. Scotland does not have the climate for teaching young kids. We have five months of winter, yet no indoor full-size astroturf facilities where kids can go after school and practice. I'm a seasoned pro and I'd rather be inside when the wind and rain comes on, so can you imagine how kids feel out on a muddy pitch."

The irony is that England extricated themselves from the muddy wasteland of defeat by Germany at Wembley, and took their Sven Goran Eriksson roadshow around the country. Scotland, locked into a contract, stuck with Hampden. "Celtic Park or Ibrox would have been better," Collins insists. "We used them in qualifying for France 98 and the atmosphere and pitch at both are better than Hampden."

It will be a few years before Collins climbs on to the managerial bandwagon. Yet he can see why the Scotland job scares young and old alike. "For young managers, it is not enticing. There is no day-to-day involvement with players. Watching opponents and scouting for players would not suit a young manager."

Collins, though, counters the belief that lucrative Premiership salaries have put people such as Ferguson or Graham out of the SFA's wage league. "It's not a question of money," he says. "They simply don't need the hassle that comes with the job. If you don't succeed, the press will be on your back. Ferguson and Graham are used to winning things. Scotland are not going to win tournaments, so qualifying for finals will have to be classed as a success. Maybe we need someone who can come in and analyse it from the outside, the way Eriksson has done for England or Tigana at Fulham."

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