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Wednesday, 16 February, 2000, 23:30 GMT
Stan in hot water again

Collymore's colourful career has taken many twists and turns
Stan Collymore is in trouble once again.

Just days after Leicester manager Martin O'Neill ended his nine-month exile from top-flight football, his name has once again been linked to controversy.

O'Neill is known as one of the best man-managers in British football, but it seems he is already having his powers of motivation stretched by the striker.

Few other footballers have promised so much as Collymore and delivered so little.

The 29-year-old is intelligent and gifted, can be charming and eloquent, but has a darker side which he has struggled to master.

Collymore stats
Born: 22/01/71
Birthplace: Stone, Staffordshire
Height: 6ft 2ins
Clubs: Walsall, Stafford, Crystal Palace, Southend, Nott'm Forest, Liverpool, Aston Villa, Leicester
England Caps: Three
Total league appearances since 1991: 237
Total league goals since 1991: 90
His physical strength, supreme balance and goal-scoring touch have seen him likened to Brazilian star Ronaldo - but with only three England caps to his name, time is running out for him to prove his class.

While Collymore's belief in his own ability flagged during a well-publicised mental illness last year, he has re-emerged with his self-confidence apparently restored.

But his less-than-happy experiences at Nottingham Forest, Liverpool and Aston Villa have caused some to say he has something of a persecution complex.

When he announced he was suffering from depression last year, most football supporters laughed that a 20,000-a-week salary for playing a sport they loved could apparently fail to satisfy.

By then, Collymore had already alienated many with his well-publicised assault on former girlfriend Ulrika Jonsson.


Happier days: Collymore can be charming
It is true that had Collymore been in virtually any other industry, he would have been more sympathetically viewed.

But his problems with depression could not have found a less considerate ear than Villa manager John Gregory.

"I just think about the third division pro coming to the end of his contract with a wife and kids to support," is Gregory's stock line when asked about Collymore's "plight".

Gregory, who inherited Collymore when he took over at Villa Park from Brian Little, clearly believed Collymore was a spoilt brat who needed teaching a lesson.

He retaliated by farming him out to Fulham and then stubbornly refusing to give him a sniff of first-team action, despite a striking crisis which at one point threatened to plunge Villa into Premiership trouble.


Low blow: Collymore apologised for his assault on Ulrika Jonsson
If Collymore plays in Saturday's Premiership match at Watford, it will be his first senior outing for nine months.

O'Neill has taken a calculated gamble on Collymore and clearly believes that he can succeed where the likes of Roy Evans, Little and Gregory have struggled to bring the best out of a wayward talent.

But Leicester have been clever in agreeing a 500,000 pay-as-you-play deal, which limits their financial liabilty if Collymore once again fails to deliver.

Some believed the star had already had his last chance.

The life-long Villa fan was said to have found his spiritual home after arriving at Villa park 33 months ago.


Top spot: Collymore's England career has never taken off
Indeed it was his failure to cut his ties with the Midlands and move house to Merseyside which many Liverpool fans blamed for his inability to fit in at Anfield.

His destructive influence on team morale - which at Nottingham Forest bubbled over into a training ground fight with Alf-Inge Haaland and his team-mates' refusal to celebrate his goals after he said they were not good enough to play with him - has swept many a dressing room.

He exudes a feeling of being "hard-done by" and misunderstood, which can arguably be traced to his early years as a YTS trainee.

Collymore began his professional soccer career in 1989 with Walsall when he was 18 years old.

But the club cancelled his YTS contract and he moved to Wolves, where he failed to make the first team despite scoring 18 goals in 20 games for their youth side.

He dropped out of the football league and joined Vauxhall Conference club Stafford Rangers.


King commute: Collymore declined to move to Merseyside
He scored eight goals in his first season and won a 100,000 move back into the professional game with Crystal Palace in 1990.

But in two years he managed just four league starts, 16 appearances as a substitute, and one goal. He was sold for 80,000 to Southend in 1992 at the age of 21.

The striker then began to find his form. He scored 18 goals in 33 games in his first season - enough to interest Nottingham Forest boss Brian Clough.

But Clough refused to pay Southend's 2.2m asking price.

Forest were relegated, Clough departed, and Collymore signed for successor Frank Clark.

Clark's gamble looked to have paid off as he hit 24 goals - 19 in 28 league games - helping Forest win an immediate return to the Premiership.


Learning curve: Collymore made his mark at Forest
Collymore's price tag rocketed to 10m and in 1995 he was expected to join Manchester United, but the bid failed and manager Alex Ferguson settled for someone else instead - 7m Andy Cole.

Collymore's career continued to flourish - he scored 25 goals as Forest finished third in the Premiership and qualified for the Uefa Cup.

He also won his first two England caps under Terry Venables.

But that year also brought its first hint of serious trouble off the pitch when he was acquitted of an assault charge for an alleged fight outside a nightclub.

He appeared to have hit the big time with an 8.5m move to Liverpool.


Villa killer: Collymore made only 60 appearances in 3 years
In his first season he made 44 appearances, scoring 19 goals as Liverpool finished third in the Premiership.

But as the 1996-97 season kicked off, there were murmurs of discontent over Collymore's decision to commute to Merseyside from his West Midlands home.

He reacted badly to competition for his first-team place from Czech international Patrik Berger, skipping training on one occasion and failing to play in a reserve team game on another.

Liverpool boss Roy Evans opted to sell him for a 1.5m loss to Villa, but controversy was never far away.

He was given a three-match ban after exchanging blows with Bolton defender Andy Todd and then accused Liverpool defender Steve Harkness of racist abuse during a game.


On loan: A transfer to Fulham never materialised
By 1999, his erratic form had earnt him a permanent place on the substitutes' bench and in February he announced he was seeking counselling for personal problems.

He spent two weeks in a clinic to undergo treatment for depression.

He returned to Villa Park and made a couple of appearances but by then Gregory had decided Collymore was becoming a liability.

Gregory announced that Collymore would receive full-time treatment for his depression and would not play again for the rest of the season.

Loan spells to Fulham and talks with Montpellier followed but both clubs held back - the French club losing interest after he refused to play in a practice match.

Such bouts of petulance will not go down well at Leicester, a club which has defeated bigger and better oposition to reach a cup final this season, using little more than fierce team spirit.

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