There’s plenty of kids around the globe who grow up knowing they’ll play football at the highest level, and never worry as they ascend to professionalism. Some only aspire to get to the elite ranks, and never quite manage to break through into the big time.
For Ben Collins, he spent a weekend on the eve of this A-League Men season not knowing which camp he sat in.
Having played with the youth team at Western United for the past year, where he had continued training with the A-League Men squad in the lead up to the 2021/22 season, Collins was still in limbo just weeks before the first game kicked off.
For weaker minds, it would crumble them. But for the young centre back, it was a challenge he was willing to push through.
“There was a period where I wasn’t 100 per cent certain what was going to happen and I had to keep my options open and be prepared for whatever happens,” Collins told The Inner Sanctum.
“It was a little bit stressful, but I’ve got a university degree at the moment, so I was exploring options within that as well as still training and focusing on soccer. You’ve got to be prepared for anything, which was a little bit stressful, but at the end of the day it wasn’t my decision to make.
“I was prepared either way but I’m stoked it’s turned out the way it has.”
In the timeframe of one fateful weekend, Collins’ world changed forever multiple times. He started off saying farewell to his teammates, fearing he would leave Western United’s base and never return to the locker room.
It continued on to a fretful period at home, where he applied for jobs and weighed up where his future may lie. Just as Collins was prepared to accept that his professional football career was dashed, Western United coach John Aloisi gave him the news that he was to be offered a contract with the A-League club.
Collins’ life flipped on its head. Instead of being an amateur player with a day job who trained on weeknights, he quickly had to adjust to the day in, day out schedule that comes with a professional contract.
“It’s a big difference to playing NPL [Melbourne’s National Premier League] where you train three nights a week to being in a full-time environment where you need to go in in the morning and you’re there for most of the day,” Collins said.
“It is a bit different, I’ve been there for a while now, so I’m lucky that I know most of the boys pretty well, they’ve been very good to me.”
It’s hard for Collins to begrudge a time where his “childhood dream finally came true”.
Having grown up in an environment where he “always wanted to play soccer” under the tutelage of two athletically-minded parents, the opportunity he now holds with Western United makes him excited that it’s all come to fruition.
Another notch on Collins’ belt that’ll also help him in his debut season on an A-League Men list is his familiarity with the club. The centre back was the skipper of Western United’s youth team in the NPL last year, meaning he got used to the facilities and the players before he was offered a contract on its main list.
In a new environment for a young man, Collins is glad to already have connections inside the growing club.
“Being at the club already helps you build relationships quickly, not just with the players but also with the off field, like physios and team managers and everyone else at the club,” he said.
“When I made the transition to the A-League squad, there were a lot of familiar faces floating around. When I was in the youth team I trained for a few sessions with the A-League squad, so I knew some of the faces already.”
“It’s now been about building on those relationships – the changeroom is a pretty good culture.”
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Another exciting point for Collins this season is the chance he has to build a professional relationship with Socceroos hero John Aloisi.
The memorable Aussie player, whose converted penalty against Uruguay booked the Socceroos’ historic place in the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final, is at the helm of Western United for the 2021/22 A-League Men season, meaning the Victorian centre back gets the chance to grow under an Australian soccer icon.
Having come into the club with new assistants and a new-look coaching group, Collins has already noticed that the playing group have become “more well-drilled” compared to last season. His style is to “focus on the minor details heavily, and to bring in a good hard-working culture which reflects the changeroom”.
But Collins’ career isn’t now about sitting back and drinking in the life of a professional Australian soccer player. From his days at Northcote in the NPL, where they taught him how to “be humble and keep working hard so the rewards will come”, the centre back understands the amount of hard work that it takes to succeed at the highest level.
Now that he’s there, he’s hellbent on breaking into the A-League Men team and making a difference for the club that showed faith in his abilities.
“My opportunities are based on how I perform at training, naturally it all comes with hard work and how I perform,” Collins admitted.
“First and foremost, I want to perform at training and impress the coaches, I want to make my debut in the A-League… hopefully that comes this season.
“I hope to bring to the club the ability to be defensively solid on the ball, I think I can open the game up and provide opportunities for players up the ground to score while also defending and keeping clean sheets.”
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