Jack Collison is off on a well-deserved holiday after yet another week to remember in a fantastic breakthrough season for club and country.
The 19-year-old midfielder signed off the 2007/08 season with a second-half appearance for Wales in the 2-0 defeat by the Netherlands on Sunday afternoon and found himself up against some of the world's best players including Real Madrid trio Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Ruud van Nistelrooy. Collison, 19, had already been "surprised" by making his senior bow the previous Wednesday in the 1-0 win in Iceland but could not believe it when manager John Toshack told him to get ready for a run-out in Rotterdam.
"He told me after about half an hour that I was going on," said Collison, who only made his first-team bow for West Ham United back on 1 January and has also just a handful of Under-21 caps to his name. "He said 'have a proper warm-up because you're going on at half-time' and made me watch Carl Robinson in the first half to see what position he was playing as I was going to replace him. He said 'just go on and do your best'."
Collison had been on cloud nine since arriving at the legendary De Kuip stadium for a match which Marco van Basten's men were using to sign off on their Euro 2008 preparations. "It was a great atmosphere. Walking out of the tunnel and to see all the Dutch fans dressed in orange was something. It is a lovely stadium. The pitch was top quality as well, a great surface for playing football and it was a proper game. They have world-class players throughout the team and it was really special experience."
It certainly was a true test of Toshack's youthful Wales team, with Collison getting a close-up view of one of Europe's top players in their dynamic No10 Sneijder. "He's not a bad player, is he?," said Collison with a smile. "He was playing in the hole and I was in a defensive midfield role and I was just trying to get in and around him but he is such a clever player. I probably learned as much in that 45 minutes playing up against him as I have all season." He added that he did not get a chance to talk much with club-mate Craig Bellamy as "I was so busy trying to get the ball back!
"To play against someone like that can only help me progress," Collison continued, before going on to describe his first two caps as "what I have been working hard for all season". He was also pleased to get time on the pitch alongside Wales captain Bellamy, with his "inspiring" club-mate coming on later in the half. The two both featured in Reykjavik last week but were not on the pitch at the same time. "It was a bit of a shame I didn't get to play with him on Wednesday especially as he got his 50th cap. That is something I am going to be looking to myself one day. It was nice to play alongside him and I am looking forward to doing it again in future for West Ham and Wales."