The rapid decline of Collins John
Despite being one of the smallest clubs in the Football League before their relegation last May, Barnet have been able to attract players above their station, due perhaps to the club’s location in the North London suburbs. Many a cast-off from a more celebrated London club has passed through Underhill early in their career, with the likes of Mark Gower and Jason Puncheon stopping by during their scenic routes to the Premier League, however more recently the Bees have become better known for the signings of established veterans such as Gary Breen, Paul Warhurst, but none bigger than current player-manager Davids. While Davids would start the match on the bench, another Dutch international was named in the starting line-up, however it was plain to see that Collins John – playing just weeks after his 27th birthday – was in far worse physical condition than the player-manager more than 10 years his senior.
I have been made to eat my words in the past when commenting on the appearance of former ‘name’ players, not least when I audibly laughed at an hugely overweight Scott Styris about a fortnight before the former New Zealand cricketer hit 38 runs off a single over. But football’s physical requirements are far more strenuous than those of cricket, and a 27-year-old – as opposed to Styris, in the twilight of his career at 37 – ought to be at the peak of his powers.
It seems a lifetime ago that a Liberian-born teenager earned his first and second Netherlands international call-ups after following up an impressive sophomore year with FC Twente by making an instant impact at Fulham, in the process, instantly silencing the wisecracks about him being a reincarnation of near-namesake and recently-retired cottagers midfielder and John Collins. Things looked particularly promising back then, however the forward has only once reached double-figures for goals in a single season, and since the start of the 2006-07 campaign he has only found the net six times across spells with nine different clubs in six different countries. All the while, younger brother Ola has gone from strength to strength, making his debut for the Oranje against Italy in February and scoring his first goal for the under-21 side at this summer’s European Championships.
The decline can be traced in part to a turbulent time for Fulham FC in the 2006-07 season. The previous campaign had been John’s most successful in terms of goals, capped by his Goal of the Month-winning strike against Middlesbrough, To put the achievement into perspective, only two Fulham players have surpassed his haul of 11 Premier League goals since – Clint Dempsey and last year’s top scorer Dimitar Berbatov. However barely 18 months later a run of one win in 15 games saw Chris Coleman, the man who brought the striker to West London, relieved of his duties. John picked up a hamstring in one of Coleman’s last games in charge, ruling him out for the remainder of that season, and upon his return barely featured under new manager Lawrie Sanchez.
Loan spells at Leicester, Watford and N.E.C followed, with diminishing levels of success, meaning the prevailing sentiment when his contract expired at Fulham was one of “wow, I didn’t realise he was still there”. Things then went from bad to worse, with disciplinary issues tainting a one-year spell at KSV Roeselare. But even then it was tough to imagine his six months and 11 (goalless) appearances in Belgium would be one of his busiest spells at a club after leaving England.
It got so bad that even Major League Soccer reporters suggested he was “damaged goods” upon his arrival at Chicago Fire in early 2010. It had been hoped that reuniting John with former Fulham team-mate Brian McBride could be the tonic he needed to recapture that early-career form, with technical director Frank Klopas insisting “he hasn’t forgotten how to play”. However in an ever-changing frontline, which would soon include another once-promising youngster in Nery Castillo, John failed to get things going. Despite scoring on his full debut against the Colorado Rapids, only two more goals would follow and he was allowed to leave at the end of a campaign in which the Fire – MLS Eastern Conference finalists the previous year – failed to reach the playoffs. A late equalizer against Los Angeles Galaxy in September 2010 was John’s last professional goal to date, with spells in Azerbaijan, Iran and London yielding only a handful of appearances, suggesting fewer and fewer clubs will be willing to take a chance on a striker whose best seasons are so far behind him one could be forgiven for assuming it was a different Collins John who scored all those goals in Enschede and Fulham.
However he is still the right side of 30, and still remains willing to travel in search of first-team football. The latest destination is Poland, where John has been reunited with former Chicago Fire team-mate Krzysztof Król. However if he again struggles as he has done since leaving Fulham, how many more teams will consider him worth a gamble?