MICHAEL COLLINS, the youngest head coach in the Football League following his appointment by Bradford City, had been preparing for the step-up a long, long time.
Since the early days of a playing career that began at Huddersfield Town, in fact. Several of the 32-year-old’s former managers will attest to this, after becoming used to fielding questions from the midfielder about the rationale behind training sessions or tactics.
There is so much to learn and I wanted to get started. As much as I enjoyed playing, I knew that part of my life was coming towards the end and felt I was wasting time when I could be learning more about coaching.Michael Collins
“I am the first to admit I am young,” Collins, part of a new-look management team at Valley Parade also featuring Martin Drury and Greg Abbott, told The Yorkshire Post.
“But I am ahead of the process in terms of where I feel to be at as a coach. I have not just stopped playing and jumped into this, with everything feeling very new. I never wanted to be that person.
“Instead, I am well down the line after being very young when I became interested in coaching. I did my badges, starting at 25, as a player. Tactics and how the game worked always fascinated me.
“I also spent time going into different clubs, including Spurs. Same with my old club Huddersfield, that was about three or four years ago and before (David) Wagner.
“At Tottenham, I had the luxury of meeting (Mauricio) Pochettino. I didn’t get to see any of the first team, which was unfortunate. But I saw the Under-23s and how they operated. It was fascinating to get that insight.
“I took all that away and put it into how I wanted to work. I felt it important to research as much as I could about football and the different styles.
“For instance, I have studied Sheffield United a lot. Not for any coaching badges or anything like that, just for my own benefit and interest.
“When I was at Leyton Orient (in 2016), they beat us 6-0 in the FA Cup. I was on the bench that day and the way they played made me think: ‘Wow, this is something different to what I usually see’. So, I spent a lot of time studying how they play.”
Collins spent last season putting all those lessons learned into practice when in charge of Bradford’s Under-18s, a role he combined from December onwards by playing for FC Halifax Town in the National League.
His 22 appearances as the Shaymen won their fight against relegation proved the midfielder still had plenty to offer. But Collins, even before Bantams chairman Edin Rahic came calling last month with the offer of succeeding Simon Grayson, had other ideas.
“I didn’t quite know where I saw myself as last season ended,” he added. “I enjoyed playing but loved coaching. It is why I was swaying towards coaching as last season finished.
“There is so much to learn and I wanted to get started. As much as I enjoyed playing, I knew that part of my life was coming towards the end and felt I was wasting time when I could be learning more about coaching.”
Collins’s unexpected promotion from the youth team to head coach came amid a close season that was more difficult than most at Valley Parade.
Grayson’s decision to reject the chance to stay coming on the back of the unpopular decision to sack Stuart McCall in February left City rudderless. A six-week search for a successor followed that saw at least one prospective candidate question why Bradford were making signings with no manager in place.
Collins’s eventual appointment in mid-June did little to quell the scepticism of supporters who had grown more and more restless as the summer wore on. He was canny enough to realise that and simply asked to be given a chance.
Six or so weeks on and Bradford are in a much better place. Signings such as Huddersfield Town duo Sean Scannell and Jack Payne have brought proven quality to a squad that had looked a tad inexperienced. A sense of optimism has also returned.
“The size of the job and the magnitude of the club meant this would always be a challenge for me, personally,” added Collins, who also had a loan spell at York City in 2015.
“But it is one I am thriving on. I have got the right people around me. Greg gives me plenty of advice and if anything comes up that is new to me, he lets me know the best way to deal with it.
“It is also great to have a very supportive chairman, who only wants the best for the club. He has a big vision and we have all bought into that. The key now is to get the players buying into the same vision.
“We believe the recruitment has gone well. The size of the club obviously gave us that attraction when recruiting but what we focused on was bringing in players who wanted to develop and better themselves.
“We were very wary when looking at players from the divisions above. We had to know their character and that they are coming down to bounce back up, not just because it is an easy option.”
Collins is the first to admit that he is learning on the job. “I am obsessed,” he said. “My missus goes mad at me. That is the one part I am having to learn, the balance of family life with this.
“Every two minutes at home, I will whip out the laptop. I will get that look but I say: ‘Just 10 minutes to look at this’.
“I am passionate about this job. I do believe that transmits across to the players. We will give them everything and if we do that, we give ourselves and the club the best chance of success. We won’t leave any stone unturned.”