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'He's going to be a top, top player' - Praise for Arsenal-linked Irish defender

Ireland U21 boss Jim Crawford believes Nathan Collins has all the attributes required to succeed in the game.

Stoke's Nathan Collins has been linked with a number of Premier League clubs.
Stoke's Nathan Collins has been linked with a number of Premier League clubs.
Image: PA

IRELAND U21 BOSS Jim Crawford has tipped promising defender Nathan Collins to have a great career in the game.

The 19-year-old Leixlip native has impressed this season, playing regularly for Stoke City in the Championship.

The young defender has been linked with a number of Premier League clubs of late, including Arsenal, Crystal Palace and Burnley.

A number of British media outlets have reported that the Clarets have already had a bid of £4.5 million rejected for the 19-year-old, whose valuation is understood to be set at around £15 million.

Crawford, whose Irish U21 squad discovered their upcoming opponents at the European Championships draw earlier today, knows Collins better than most, having worked with him at underage level.

“Nathan, with regards to potential, he could be a top centre half,” Crawford told reporters today. “It’s one thing having potential, but [it's another] having the attitude, and he certainly has the attitude. He has a fantastic work ethic about him and he’s always willing to learn, I see him as a real leader.

“I spoke to him over Christmas time, we had a good chat, with regards to his situation with the U21s and how he’s getting on with Stoke. He’s just loving his football and that’s all he lives for. We talk about potential and having the right attitude, he’s got both. So I think he’s going to be a top top player.”

Asked whether he might be better off staying at Stoke for now rather than risk losing the opportunity to play regular first-team football, Crawford replied: “I certainly can’t answer would be go straight into the teams mentioned. That’s the view of the team he goes to. I’ve always said to players if you’re playing first-team football and happy, just keep doing what you’re good at, because eventually, something will move for you.

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“If he did make a move and he was not playing every week, I don’t know what that would do with regards his confidence, because looking at him play every game he plays with Stoke, he’s developing very quickly and he’s a big player with them. The decision is his ultimately and the decision of whether he plays every week is [down to] the team that brings him in. But he’s still a young boy, he shows so many positive qualities that [I believe] he will reach his potential for sure.”

Another Irish player who has been making headlines recently is Shamrock Rovers youngster Kevin Zefi, who is expected to complete a move to Inter Milan in February once he turns 16.

Zefi has already played first-team football in the First Division with Shamrock Rovers II and became the League of Ireland’s youngest ever goalscorer back in September when he netted against Longford.

However, Crawford played down suggestions that he could be fast-tracked into the Irish U21 set-up.

“I’d never say never. I know he’s played senior football for Shamrock Rovers II and I’ve seen him playing in those games. But Kevin is still a young lad. I wouldn’t commit to say he’s ready to come into the 21s. But I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on him, as well as other younger players. I’ve always had a vested interest in players, whether it’s the U15s, 16s or what have you. I’m just passionate about player development, and Kevin has been on the radar quite a while, so we’ll see how he develops.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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