‘My dad will critique me even if I stop Erling Haaland’, says Irish star Nathan Collins
Wolves’ summer signing faces tough task against Manchester City but can take heart from helping his side concede fewest goals so far this season
Nathan Collins will know that however he performs against goal sensation Erling Haaland this weekend, he is assured of a detailed post-match critique from his football-mad family.
Collins and Wolves are the latest club charged with stopping Manchester City and Haaland, who has scored 13 goals in his last eight games, but it is a challenge the Irish centre-back is relishing.
He is the £20.5m (€23.4m) summer signing from Burnley and an outstanding young talent, helping Wolves secure three clean sheets and the best defensive record in this season’s Premier League.
This weekend could prove to be his toughest test, and there is little doubt that his biggest fans – father Dave, uncle Eamonn and the rest of the Collins family – will be watching with interest.
“My dad and uncle are from the tough days of football, they know all about it,” he says.
“They will always tell me where I’m going wrong. Are they my harshest critics? Oh yes, massively!
“I could have a wonderful game, play unbelievably, and they will find the littlest thing, saying I should do this or talk more and my position should be here. It’s great to have that support as it drives me on and makes me work harder.”
With such a vast football family, Collins was never likely to work in any other profession and admits it probably wouldn’t have been allowed.
Dave came through Liverpool’s academy as a kid while Eamonn, a former midfielder, had a long career at clubs including Southampton and Colchester.
Nathan’s older brother, Josh, played for clubs in the League of Ireland and grandfather Michael captained Transport to the FAI Cup in 1950.
“Football is my life and it always has been, I can’t get away from it ever,” says Nathan. “Every night I’m talking to them about football, what the tactics are and what I need to do.
“Either my mum or dad, or both, will come to every game and they travel across the country wherever it is. They would get planes, trains, taxis or even cycle to matches if they had to. They just love supporting me.
“My little brother [Seb] is also obsessed with football, he copies me in everything I do. My little sister [Keavy] plays Gaelic football and is really good at it.”
So, on to Haaland and City. The £51m (€58m) signing has produced an incredible impact since joining from Borussia Dortmund, delivering a stupendous acrobatic winner to sink his former club in the Champions League on Wednesday. Collins, however, cannot wait to face Haaland, who was compared to the legendary Johan Cruyff by Pep Guardiola this week.
“It’s going to be tough and we know how many chances he [Haaland] gets in a game, but this is why we play football,” says Collins.
“We want to keep testing ourselves and go against the best. We’re really excited.
“They are one of the best teams in the world, but we have to look at what we’ve been doing well, and if there are little things we can change to stop them from getting balls across the box [to Haaland].
“This is one game, and if we can get the better of him, it will be great, and then we’ll keep going again.
“We’re just enjoying it, and while people are saying Man City will be a hard game, we honestly can’t wait.”
Collins (21) already appears a shrewd signing since his move from relegated Burnley, becoming the first high-profile arrival in a Wolves transfer window that eventually topped £100m (€114m).
A modern-day centre-back who plays on the front foot, he seems entirely suited to Bruno Lage’s style of play, where defenders are encouraged to step out of the back-four. He names Barcelona’s Gerard Pique as one of his inspirations.
Collins also possesses leadership qualities, which have been evident since he was named Stoke’s youngest captain at the age of 18.
His partnership with Maximilian Kilman is flourishing and Lage’s surprise decision to offload Conor Coady, a key figure in Wolves’ recent history, has become almost an afterthought. In the last match against Southampton, Collins and Kilman won 100pc of their aerial duels.
“Since I’ve come in, me and ‘Maxy’ have bonded really well,” says Collins.
“I sit next to him in the dressing-room, we’re always talking to each other and sitting for lunch together. We’ve got a good relationship and that shows on the pitch.
“We both want to play the new generation of football, passing it out from the back. We’ve both got a side where we can get stuck in, win headers and dominate the striker, but we complement each other very well.
“It’s not just me and Max, everyone is playing their part, from Jose [Sa], Jonny, Nelson [Semedo] to Rayan [Ait-Nouri].”
Collins highlights the influence of Carlos Cachada, the first-team coach, as crucial to Wolves’ solid start: they have only conceded four goals so far in the league.
“Carlos is always doing extras and showing us clips, telling me what I’m doing good or bad,” he says.
“There’s still a lot to improve and even on the ball, defensively, I think we can still go a long way.
“I’ve always been taught to be on the front foot, be aggressive and step in with play and find the passes. I enjoy the style of play so much.”
Collins also points to players such as Joao Moutinho, Ruben Neves and record £38m (€43m) signing Matheus Nunes, insisting their quality and standards “are ridiculous”.
This week there was a new arrival in the dressing-room after former Chelsea striker Diego Costa joined on a free transfer. “He is so funny and just has an aura about him. He’s a character and doesn’t stop talking. He’s joined in seamlessly and that’s what the lads here are like.”
After this weekend’s encounter with the champions, Collins will join up with the Republic of Ireland squad for their Nations League matches.
Collins, born in Kildare, is already establishing a fine reputation with Stephen Kenny’s Ireland team, enhancing it further with a brilliant individual goal against Ukraine in June.
The pursuit of perfection is the constant driving force. “I want to become the best player I can be. I don’t think I’ve done anything in the game yet, I don’t think I’ve made my mark,” he says.
“I want to play here at Wolves as long as I can and don’t want to stop. My aspirations are top six, Europe or whatever, and I want to do that here. I want to improve every day.”
Wolves v Manchester City, Live, BT Sport 1, 12.30
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