Aaron Collins: A Journey from Big Macs to hungry Wolves

By Michael PearlmanBBC Wales Sport
Aaron Collins
Aaron Collins has played once for Wales Under-19s

When Aaron Collins signed for Wolverhampton Wanderers from Newport County it capped a remarkable turn around in the Welshman's football fortunes.

Now earmarked as a bright prospect, in the summer of 2014 Collins briefly had to swap hat-tricks for happy meals after being released from Newport's academy.

Having been picked up by the County academy following his release from Bristol City, Collins was told he did not have the right mentality, even if he had the talent.

With his dreams of a career in football fading, Collins took a job in a burger restaurant.

Lack of focus

That his stay in McDonald's in the Malpas area of the city was short-lived is down to Newport favourite Mike Flynn.

"I had just taken over from the previous academy boss and he didn't feel Aaron was good enough to be a scholar," Flynn told BBC Wales Sport.

"I'd watched him the year before and felt he had the most ability of anyone there. But he arguably lacked focus.

"I went and spoke to the manager Justin Edinburgh and explained we had this guy working in McDonald's to pay for his petrol who hadn't been offered scholar terms and was slipping through the net.

"I said we need to give him a professional contract as I felt we couldn't afford to lose him for nothing."

Bad Attitude

Flynn, who made over 300 Football League appearances for the likes of Wigan Athletic, Huddersfield Town and Bradford City, feels the notion of Collins being big-headed or having a bad attitude was always wide of the mark.

Aaron Collins celebrates a goal with the Newport fans
Collins was a hit with the fans at Rodney Parade

"I like to think I know my football and can judge a character, and Aaron has never had a bad attitude," Flynn explained.

"He can come across like he's messing about and not paying attention, but it's nothing to do with attitude.

"He's a likeable lad, popular with his team-mates and he works hard. It might wind some people up, but I like that Aaron has a little edge to his character."

First-team chance

Collins' age-grade performances impressed then-manager Edinburgh who handed him a first-team debut in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy in September 2014 against League One side Swindon Town and he made his Football League bow for the Exiles in April 2015, featuring as a second-half substitute against Dagenham.

Within months Edinburgh had left, quickly followed by his replacement Jimmy Dack.

By the time contract renewals came around ex-England skipper Terry Butcher was in the hot seat and, with his wage budget slashed, was forced to promote young players.

Collins was one of a group promoted to the first team, scoring his first goal for the League Two side in a 2-2 draw against Stevenage, but Butcher was sacked weeks later.

Collins scored his final goal for the club in their 1-0 win at York City on 16 January.

Interest grows

News of Collins' progression soon spread.

Newport were already in negotiations to sell teenage defender Poole to Manchester United and they held firm on Collins on transfer deadline day in August 2015, rebuffing two bids from Championship side Burnley, the second for around £65,000.

Regan Poole and Aaron Collins high five Hartlepool's monkey mascot
Regan Poole, now of Manchester United, and Aaron Collins are both products of Newport County's academy

However, Wolves led the battle for his services once the transfer window re-opened, winning out for a youngster now capped by Wales Under-19s.

Manager Warren Feeney, who replaced Butcher, explained: "Unfortunately in football any young kid that breaks on to the scene and scores goals will always attract interest.

"He is going to a great club in Wolverhampton Wanderers, a good manager like Kenny Jackett who can help develop him further and hopefully Aaron can push on and try and win a place in the first team and progress to big things."

From McDonald's to Molineux

Flynn, now back at Newport as first team coach, believes Collins is destined for the Premier League and an international future with Wales, but has already warned the teenager he needs to remain grounded.

"I spoke to Aaron just after he'd signed and told him that I believe he can go as far as he wants to in his career," he said.

"But I've also warned him that he's gone from McDonald's to being a Championship player so quickly and just as quickly, it could happen in the opposite direction.

"He's more suited to scoring goals than flipping burgers, so he's got to work hard and he can get to where he wants.

"He's done himself, the club and his family proud. The sky is the limit for him."