Discussion around Brentford’s prospects next season may have centred around their ability to replace Ivan Toney’s goals. But for summer recruit and club record signing Nathan Collins, ‘chance creation begins at the back.’ Ireland’s most expensive export may ply his trade in defence, but his forward-thinking style looks set to transform a Brentford side intent on breaking all types of records on and off the pitch.
Thomas Frank’s side finished 9th last season, just three points away from European qualification, and with only the top four conceding fewer than their 46 goals, they owe much of their success to a watertight defence. So why pay £23 million for a player with just a handful of top-level experience? Well, this is a squad with an ageing backline whose foundations are forged in the football league, and whilst they’ve more than held their own since promotion in 2021, a changing of the guard appears in order, and Collins represents the next generation.
A centre-back who thrives with the ball at his feet, Collins brings a refreshing front-footedness to a defence that has survived on willpower alone for long enough. Without looking to downplay the efforts of Ethan Pinnock, Ben Mee and Mathias Jorgensen, Brentford ranked fifth for shots blocked but 19th for touches taken in the Premier League last season, a comparison indicative of their backs-to-the-wall style of defending.
They defend deep, soak up pressure, and counterattack with ruthless efficiency, a tactic that serves its purpose, but for a team as ambitious as Brentford has its drawbacks. Frank’s men need more control of the ball, and Collins offers that. The 6’4 centre-half averages an 88% pass completion rate – of Brentford’s centre-backs options, only Mee (80.3%) managed to record a pass completion rate above 80%. But this doesn’t mean he keeps it simple. Collins is just as comfortable playing long as he is short.
Whilst Brentford appear to be prioritising possession ahead of the new season, they won’t abandon their identity overnight. And with Collins at the heart of their defence, Frank knows he can seamlessly switch between a more passive and active approach whilst the rest of his team adapts. Comfortable at driving with the ball or breaking the lines with his range of passing, Collins hasn’t forgotten the fundamentals of defending.
“At the end of the day, I’m a defender, and I have to head the ball, win it and win my challenges,” he noted in an interview with Brentford’s website. His imposing frame rarely sees him bullied out of challenges, whilst an education at Burnley and Wolves means Collins is no stranger to the defensive dark arts, much of which he learnt alongside Mee, who Collins regards as a huge influence on his career.
The pair first played together at Burnley. Before Mee became temporary assistant manager of the Clarets, Collins started all eight of Mee’s games in the dugout, and their relationship on and off the pitch could prove vital. Whilst he may not be as experienced as the departing captain Pontus Jansson, who has joined Malmö on a free transfer, Collins has already amassed 45 Premier League appearances as well as 14 appearances for the Republic of Ireland.
At just 22 years old, Collins will be playing Premier League football for the third different club of his fledgling career. Few have doubted his potential, but with less than 100 senior league appearances to his name, it feels about time that the Stoke City youth product settled into his surroundings not only in Southwest London but in the conversation as one of the best young defenders in England.
By: Sam Tabuteau / @TabuteauS
Featured Image: @Juanffrann / James Baylis – AMA