Nathan Collins (left) will take on Erling Haaland today.
talking point

Erling Haaland battle will be the latest test of Nathan Collins' true potential

As one of Ireland’s brightest hopes faces the most devastating striker in the Premier League, just how high is the Leixlip native’s glass ceiling?

THE LAUGHS FROM some in the room were involuntary rather than disrespectful.

Stephen Kenny was dealing with a number of issues relating to his Ireland squad announcement on Thursday when a slight curveball was thrown his way.

“Stephen, how does Nathan Collins stop Erling Haaland on Saturday,” he was asked ahead of Wolves’ game with Manchester City today.

“He’s playing to a very high level. His attitude is good. He has good values, a high level of professionalism, and he has some good leadership qualities. You feel with Nathan he’s only going to get better in his career,” Kenny began.

“Nathan has taken everything in his stride. It’s very impressive the way he’s done that. It’s a big challenge of course, taking on Manchester City and Haaland. It’s another step in his development.

“He’s shown the quality to do that. It’s a big challenge against Man City. I’m sure. He didn’t play against Haaland before. It’s a new experience. I’m sure he’ll relish the challenge.”

leeds-united-v-wolverhampton-wanderers-premier-league-elland-road Collins rises highest for a header against Leeds. PA PA

This is the stage in his career which Collins now finds himself in, a kind of continuous examination of his true credentials with sporadic moments where it will feel like everyone outside of Ireland – and the Black Country – is acutely aware of his existence.

He turned 21 in April and, not long after, his £20 million summer move to Molineux made him the most expensive Ireland international in history.

He is at a point where games like this, against the English champions and the division’s in-form striker, will be used as a barometer to test just how far he could go in the game.

In the ever-increasing world of extremes: fraud or GOAT?

Of course, it shouldn’t be like that.

Nobody knows Collins’ glass ceiling, and for all the hope that he is primed to rise to the top, it is a path fraught with obstacles.

Even if his career trajectory so far would suggest the only way is up.

Captain of Stoke City in the Championship by the age of 18, he forced his way into Burnley’s side for the second half of last season and was a key factor in the Clarets making a fight of their relegation battle before eventually succumbing.

In between his move to Wolves a rousing international window in June raised expectations to a whole new level.

Even before that sensational solo goal against Ukraine in Lodz to sign off for the summer, his commanding displays in the three games previous caught the eye.

manchester-city-v-borussia-dortmund-uefa-champions-league-group-g-etihad-stadium Haaland continued his sensational form in the Champions League earlier this week. PA PA

And when Wolves pounced soon after there was a sense it was the smart play to continue his development.

Having become first choice in Bruno Lage’s refigured back four from the opening day of the season, it has not been difficult to gauge his progress.

Occasions like this against Haaland will only serve to highlight that further. He will have his own expectations, and demands from his manager, so it’s hard to imagine he will be concerned too much by how he analysed on the outside.

But that’s the nature of the business.

It would have been the same last weekend had Wolves’ game with Liverpool at Anfield not been postponed following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

The spotlight would have shone on how he fared up against a frontline that consists of Mo Salah, Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino and Darwin Nunez. It was the same in late August ahead of Wolves’ trip to Spurs, when The42 asked Lage if he would learn even more about his new defender by how he coped against Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski.

The Portuguese was effusive and spoke of the Leixlip native’s future as a potential leader at the club.

“Part of that role is to talk with the team, afterwards it is natural for centre backs to be captain. The most important thing for us is the profile of the player.

When Collins come, after one or two days it looked like he was here two or three years. It’s about the personality and the belief to say ‘ok, I am here, now let’s find my space’.

“Look, I am very happy with him. We can see the maturity. We can see this by the first time we talk. We started training and we could see that straight away too.”

All it took was a few seconds in that duel with Kane for the England captain to wriggle free of Collins’ attention from a set piece.

He feinted to run across the front, stopped and created the space behind to head home from close range as Spurs pilfered a win.

The smallest of margins that make the biggest difference and leave a lasting impression.

ukraina-irlandia Collins in action for Ireland. Lukasz Sobala Lukasz Sobala

Now Haaland provides – on form – the toughest test of all.

Some will view it as a test of Collins’ true potential: sink or swim.

It will be a bit longer before these types of occasions are not viewed through that prism. Only the passing of time, and form, will tell us where Collins will go.

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