Perhaps mindful of the Fernand Sastre National Technical Centre in Clairefontaine, France, which opened 20 years ago and went on to help develop the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Louis Saha and Thierry Henry, the former Celtic midfielder held up the example of which he feels Scotland should become disciples.

As he spoke of a system in which education and football are meticulously entwined, Collins didn’t know it, but his vision is already well on its way to being realised by his former club.

This summer, in conjunction with St Ninian’s High School in Kirkintilloch, Celtic took on a group of 
14 young boys on a full-time basis. A strict regime of training and school-work dominates the week and the Parkhead club hope, further down the line, to reap the harvest of the hard work they are currently sowing.

That this elite group of 
14-year-olds will receive around nine training sessions per week -- three times that which any other club would give to kids at the same age -- is the key to improving players at a vital stage of their physical development.

Chris McCart, Celtic’s head of youth development, helped implement the pioneering strategy and is optimistic that in providing the extra training at no cost to the boys’ academic career, the Parkhead club will give their young players every chance of success.

The ambitious project began this summer after a research project into how continental clubs develop their young players.

“Last year Peter Lawwell [Celtic chief executive], John Park [football development manager] and I went benchmarking a lot of the top European clubs to give ourselves a good picture of what other clubs were doing,” explained McCart.

“It turns out that just about every major European set-up has an involvement with the school, and school was a big part of the club, with the idea being to ensure education in tandem with football development.

“We visited clubs like PSV Eindhoven, AC Milan, Ajax and Benfica to see how their set-up worked. We came back and decided that we had to have a look at a school that had the same kind of philosophy as ourselves, but that it would have to have very good facilities as morning training sessions are held at the school.

“Education is a priority. We looked at various high schools in East Dunbarton­shire because, obviously, we needed it to be close to Lennoxtown and we chose St Ninian’s in Kirkintilloch, a school that was just about to move into a brand new state-of-the-art building.

“We met up with Paul McLaughlin, the head teacher, and there was a fantastic willingness on his part. We put a lot of work into it over the summer to get it up and running and we owe a lot of thanks to East Dunbartonshire council and to Paul for working in tandem with us.”

With boys at the school from as far afield as Dunfermline and Dundee, Celtic’s commitment to the project is obvious. Those who stay outwith Glasgow are currently staying with other families, while those who remain in Glasgow have every need catered for them as they embark on a level of dedication that is significant given their tender years.

A typical day begins at 6am and is crammed full of education and training until early evening.

The idea is revolutionary for Scotland and it will be watched with some interest by others in the game. The proof, of course, will be in the pudding and, given the formidable fall-out rate between this age group and full-time football, if Celtic were to find just one player it would be a success.

Of the 14 boys who are the first to embark on the project, they will have every opportunity to seize what is the cliched once-in-a-lifetime chance. Every academic need is catered for with Celtic supplying tutors to help with homework and course work, while in addition to a structured training regime, one-to-one help on the training ground can also be factored in.

For those who may not make it, through bad luck or otherwise, Celtic are adamant that there has to be the safety net of a decent education to fall back on.

“Our policy is, and always will be, regardless of how talented they are as footballers, that, if they are not doing well at school, if they are not doing homework or there is poor discipline at school then we will not allow them to train,” said McCart.

“It is really important to us that the players we have are performing to the best of their academic level because we want them to have something to fall back on.

“A topical example right now is John Kennedy. John should have had a great career here but his career has been ruined because of an injury. At some stage, be it through injury or be it through simply being released by a club, there has to be something else and that is the message that we are striving to get through.

“On the football side we realised that something different had to happen in Scotland to shake things up a bit and we are the only club in Scotland doing this,” said McCart. “There are no English Premier League clubs doing it, although Watford are embarking on something similar.

“It is a ground-breaking move in British football but, for us, it is vital that there is a quality system in place. We are taking a holistic approach to it -- it is not just about football. We want to have a part in helping to form a 
well-rounded individual, someone who has manners, has humility, has self-discipline and respect for others around him.”