Nathan Collins challenges James Maddison at the weekend. Alamy Stock Photo

Nathan Collins is a victim and beneficiary of exploitative market

The 22-year-old needs a coach to help shape next stage of career, but Brentford’s model could make him just another part of game’s churn.

NATHAN COLLINS’ CAREER may be nomadic so far but that doesn’t mean it has been without purpose.

It’s tempting to look at a 22-year-old with four clubs already on his CV and fear that early wanderlust during a pivotal time of development could lead to a malaise further down the line.

A sense of drift is always a legitimate concern when someone is attempting to find their way, but in the Ireland international’s case it feels as if, so far, he has been both a victim of circumstance and a beneficiary of football’s exploitative market.

Now at Brentford, Collins has the opportunity to work with one of the Premier League’s most impressive coaches, Thomas Frank, and be moulded at a crucial stage of his career.

Or, given the club’s model of building a database and analysing over 85,000 players throughout the world, Collins may well become just another part of the relentless churn in an eye-watering trading industry.

Brentford’s Technical Director Lee Dykes explained the club’s approach to CNN Sport in March, just before they finished their second season in England’s top flight in ninth place, one win away from qualifying for the Europa Conference League.

“For me to do that, my team to do that – 15 people strong – you’re not going to do that with your eyes. You need a system that filters that down to a manageable number. But that system has to be aligned with what you want from your eyes. 

“You need to develop a criteria that is linked to the data filter of all of the players. It comes down into this process and then you’re in a stage where you can start looking with the eyes still checking with the numbers, but that’s how data should be used in football,” Dykes continued.

“It gives us options, it allows us to filter through and miss nothing. And then we attach some very good eyes in the recruitment team.”

Collins, it’s safe to assume, would surely have been someone who was on Brentford’s radar long before Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Financial Fair Play predicament meant they were open to the £23 million transfer this summer.

Brentford sensed their opportunity to pounce, tested the water with an offer of millions in the high teens before eventually settling on the acceptable figure. A six-year-contract was agreed with Collins.

Even his short time at Molineux illustrates how a player’s fortunes – and stock – can fluctuate wildly.

toti-gomes-24-of-wolverhampton-wanderers-and-nathan-collins-4-of-wolverhampton-wanderers-celebrate-their-teams-win-after-the-premier-league-match-wolverhampton-wanderers-vs-aston-villa-at-molineux Nathan Collins celebrates with former Wolves teammate Toti Gomes. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

He was signed by Bruno Lage, heralded as a future captain with traits similar to Manchester City’s Ruben Dias, and then initially lauded by Lage’s successor, Julen Lopetegui.

As Wolves flirted with relegation, the experienced coach turned to the transfer market in January and brought in veteran Craig Dawson. Collins lost his place, Wolves stayed up, and then the summer arrived.

Wolves did the deal with Brentford, and Lopetegui soon followed Collins out the door after a breakdown in the relationship with the club’s hierarchy.

Collins was one of those caught in the crossfire at a club facing financial issues and who was of instant value to their balance sheet.

It’s been somewhat of a theme.

At Stoke City, he emerged from the academy and was given the captain’s armband at the age of 18 by Nathan Jones, remaining a mainstay of the defence under Michael O’Neill.

As the ramifications of a bloated wage bill and relegation from the Premier League in the years before began to bite, Stoke needed to sell.

Collins was their most valuable asset and Burnley pounced, Sean Dyche bringing the defender to Turf Moor with a view to eventually edging out one of James Tarkowski or Ben Mee.

The latter, ironically, is now a teammate at Brentford.

Collins had to wait until October of the 2021/22 campaign for his first taste of Premier League action, a credible 0-0 draw with Norwich City.

That three-month term of adjustment then saw him start against champions Manchester City and Southampton before the month was out. He made a couple of more appearances in December, none in January, and one in February.

Burnley were in the relegation zone and Collins got his chance at the start of March following an injury to Mee. A red card — against Brentford, funnily enough — followed later in the month but he remained a fixture in the starting XI for the final two months of the season.

brentford-london-uk-13th-august-2023-gtech-community-stadium-brentford-london-england-premier-league-football-brentford-versus-tottenham-hotspur-nathan-collins-of-brentford-passing-the-ball Collins in action for Brentford. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Despite relegation, Collins shone. An indication of someone grasping the opportunity and delivering performances that attracted suitors.

Brentford didn’t have to wait long until Collins was back on the market, and now he just needs to find his feet in a settled system with a coach who can bring that elusive blend of stability and progress.

As noted by Brian Kerr on Off The Ball before he made his debut in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, last season Brentford were third for accurate long passes, behind only City and Liverpool, and had the second lowest pass completion rate (72.8%) – an indication of their preference to play more risky, quick forward passes.

Brentford were first for winning aerial duels and only conceded 46 goals – the fifth best record in the division.

Frank, it seems, will certainly demand Collins finds a consistency to his defensive play to remain a regular.

And there will be more expected.

Speaking on Ben Foster’s podcast this week, Mee revealed that Brentford have a bonus structure for set-pieces and how even the 15-second turnover period is included. That helps explain why their 16 goals from deadballs in 2022/23 was the second highest and they had the most amount of goals scored (nine) from turnovers won in the final third.

Collins has clearly been brought to the club as he fits their model. For how long that lasts is down to circumstance: some of which he can control but some he has no say in.

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