Nathan Collins wins a header for Wolves. PA

Wolves boss hails Nathan Collins with Ruben Dias comparison - 'After two days it was like he was here three years'

Bruno Lage tells The42 why the 21-year-old centre back can be a future captain for club and country.

BRUNO LAGE HAS the ideal reference point when assessing Nathan Collins’ potential.

The former Benfica manager worked with Ruben Dias at underage level at the Portuguese giants prior to handing him the captain’s armband when he eventually ascended to the senior job.

Dias has since gone on to be skipper on a few occasions for Manchester City following his €68 million move in September 2020.

The centre back was 23 when he arrived in the Premier League, had already been a part of Portugal’s 2018 World Cup squad, and was earmarked by Pep Guardiola and the club’s hierarchy as the perfect replacement for the influential Vincent Kompany.

Circumstances are all relative, of course, but Collins’ rise has got Ireland fans excited at the prospect of what is still to come in a career that appears to be on a steady, upward trajectory.

Captain of Stoke City in the Championship at 18, the move to Burnley which followed last season proved a further stepping stone as Wolves ensured he remained a top-flight player with a €24m transfer this summer.

It was the single most expensive transfer of all time involving an Irish player, but Lage has explained how Collins, who turned 21 in April, looked as if he had been a Molineux stalwart just days after joining.

And, following the departure of captain Conor Coady from the heart of the defence, expectation has already fallen on the likes of Collins to step up.

final-training-benfica-lisbon Bruno Lage in charge of Benfica, with Ruben Dias (fourth left). DPA / PA Images DPA / PA Images / PA Images

Experienced midfielder Ruben Neves has taken over as captain but Lage is adamant that does not absolve the Leixlip native from responsibility, and wasn’t quick to play down comparisons with Dias’ progression.

“Look, you never know. I am so happy with him. The most important thing, Ruben has come one year [to England] and in one year won the armband a couple of times,” Lage said.

“What is more important for the people who like Collins, we like him because that is why we pay a lot of money to bring him here.

“He is very happy to be here and that is the most important thing in the relationship between club and player, and manager and player.

“We are talking about all the teams in the world, in the Premier League and in important championships, where are the captains? Most of them are centre backs.

I don’t know the per-centage. Maybe I am wrong. We can see Ruben Dias. He was my captain, not the first captain in Benfica, but he was one of them. Now he has captained Manchester City.

“He is one of them. You can see these kind of examples. Centre backs have this kind of personality to be the captain because they are in front of the game and one of the functions they have is to control the team.

“To voice their commands, if we need to be in the pressure position, the centre back can say we need to.

“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.

premier-league-2022-2023-package Wolves boss Bruno Lage. PA PA

“He was the right profile. I can see him doing good things for the club and I can see him being a reference in the club for others, for his personality and for his culture of the game.”

Even before Coady’s surprise departure for Everton earlier in the transfer window, Lage had been working intently on transitioning from a back three to flat four.

“What I can say to you, every time something happen like that [Coady leaving] people start talking, ‘what’s going to happen, what’s going to happen’. That’s why it such an important time. Wait. Be patient,” he insisted.

“After, then people will see what has happened. That’s why the premature assessment of situations, every time it is wrong.

“Give time for him (Collins) to come, to understand his tole and train with the team. To understand the mentality of the club and understand the personality of the manager. In time it will come. I can see with Collins and Max [Kilman].

It’s true because they are playing at the moment that they need to talk to be a big reference [to others]. Especially at centre back, they need to have that personality to talk. They are in front of the team and they see everything.

“I want that from them, and they already know that because I already talked with Collins and I talked with Max. They know they need to be a big reference in the club. They are great professionals, they can lead by example with the way they work, but also they can lead the team by the personality they have.

“You know now, it’s about trust. They are younger but we will see what these guys need one day to help them to improve. That’s about us to help them learn and improve.”

A lunchtime trip to Tottenham Hotspur today will be another sharp learning curve as Collins deals with the triple threat of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski.

“I saw this kind of things happen so many times. It’s not a surprise for me. All these years, to see how many players when they start to play their first games. They think they belong there, the mentality and the personality of each one… It’s a question of time for him to be what we expect him to be.”

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