John Collins, the former Everton, Hibernian and Fulham midfielder, has endorsed Sheffield United’s decision to sign Stefan Scougall after expressing his amazement that none of Scotland’s heavyweight names attempted to hijack the youngster’s move Bramall Lane, writes James Shield.
Collins, who worked closely with Scougall during a spell as director of football at Livingston, insisted last night the £150,000 it cost to lure the under-21 international south of the border would prove “money well spent” given the 21-year-old’s “huge potential” and “talent.”
“Stefan has a touch worthy of the Champions League,” Collins, who helped AS Monaco reach the semi-finals of the tournament in 1998, told The Star. “That much was clear the first time I ever saw him play.
“Don’t get me wrong, Stefan isn’t the finished article and he’s still got a lot to learn. But there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that he’s got the ability to develop into a very, very exciting and gifted footballer because all the tools and ingredients are there.”
Scougall has made three appearances since becoming United’s most extravagant purchase of the recent transfer window two weeks ago. Forty-eight hours after completing a deal, which could eventually net Livingston £400,000 should he prove a success in South Yorkshire, Scougall announced his arrival as a second-half substitute during United’s FA Cup draw against Fulham before starting the League One fixture at Crewe Alexandra and subsequent fourth round replay with Rene Meulensteen’s side.
Nigel Clough acknowledged earlier this month that Scougall’s slight frame had prompted some observers to question whether he could cope with the physical demands of English competition.
But, commending the United manager’s determination to base his recruitment policy on skill rather than stature, Collins said: “There are far too many people in the game these days who look at what a player can’t do - and make judgements based on that - not what they can do.
“And those are the people who, in my honest opinion, shouldn’t be involved in football at all. Because that way of thinking is entirely flawed.
“Stefan can look after himself. There’s no question about that.
“But even if he couldn’t, you can work on the strength and conditioning aspects quite simply and easily. Whereas it’s much harder to teach someone the mechanics of football. Give them a sound and polished technique which Stefan already has.”
“I’ve got to say that I was really surprised when nobody in Scotland, Celtic, Hibs or Rangers for example, made a concerted effort to get Stefan because I think they’ve missed a real trick there,” Collins added. “But their loss is definitely United’s gain.”
Scougall, absolved of any responsibility for what Clough labelled a “desperately disappointing” defeat at Gresty Road, revealed the debt of gratitude he owes Collins ahead of tomorrow’s crucial encounter against Shrewsbury Town.
United, 23rd in the table, are a point and two places behind Michael Jackson’s side but buoyed by Tuesday’s victory at Craven Cottage which saw them claim their second top-flight scalp of this season’s competition.
“John sent me a text message when I came down here,” Scougall said. “And then after I’d made my debut (against Fulham) he got in touch again to say he heard I’d done well which meant a lot.
“When someone who has achieved what he has gives you advice then you always listen. The same goes for the manager (Clough) here because of the knowledge he’s got too.”
Collins, aged 46, resigned his position at Almondvale Stadium last term. Capped nearly 60 times by Scotland and having represented them at both Euro 96 and the 1988 World Cup, he later accepted a part-time role on the SFA’s youth programme.
“One of the areas I’d like to see Stefan develop now is orchestrating and dictating games,” Collins continued. “Perhaps even making runs from deep lying positions because he’s got the control, pace and technique to cause defenders all sorts of problems.
“When we were at Livingston we used Stefan in a variety of different positions to give him an appreciation of what is going on around him in other areas of the pitch. I’m sure Nigel, who is a clearly a proper football person, will be looking for him to improve the same facets but the building blocks are definitely there.
“There’s an intelligence about Stefan. Not only in terms of what he does during matches and the way he sees situations develop but also because he understands those areas where he has to get better.”
Clough, who is without Michael Doyle for the visit of Shrewsbury as the United captain completes a three match suspension, has made no attempt to disguise the fact his team must combine character with calibre to drag themselves out of trouble.
Sean McGinty, whose loan at Northampton Town was terminated earlier this week, has returned to the Redtooth Academy as the former England international’s coaching staff continue to scour the loan market for reinforcements.
“United won’t have any problems with Stefan because he’s grounded,” Collins said. “He comes from a good family.”