I for one have always been a fan of James Collins as a player. The Wales centre back is a big hearted defender who will always give his all and very rarely let you down. Personally I was gutted when ‘Ginge’ left the club in September 2009 but was equally delighted when he returned to the claret and blue three years later.
The Welshman first joined the club for his first spell in 2005 along with fellow Cardiff defender Danny Gabbidon. He initially struggled to break into the first team due to the formidable partnership formed by Gabbidon and Anton Ferdinand. Injuries and the arrival of Matthew Upson again didn’t help Collins’ cause. However despite these setbacks, the 6ft 4in centre half managed 54 games in a spell that spanned over four years for the club. Collins was a very reliable, solid and consistent defender who always did a good job when called upon.
I think the general consensus when Collins left for Aston Villa for a reported £4.5 million was one of disappointment. It was a decent sum of money but he was 26 years of age at the time with arguably his best years still ahead of him.
Collins managed 91 appearances for the Midlands club becoming a regular starter and consistent performer at Villa Park. However as his contract moved into its final year, Sam Allardyce snapped him up for around £2 million as we prepared for our return to the top flight. At such a small fee, the majority of Hammers fans, myself included, were more than happy with his capture. He is an experienced Premier League player to help the relative inexperience at this level of the likes of James Tomkins and Winston Reid as well being a fan favourite and solid performer from his previous time at the club. Plus at the time, we were crying out for central defenders.
Collins started his second stint at the club perfectly with a man of the match performance and a clean sheet in a 1-0 win against Aston Villa on the opening day of the season. Unfortunately he went from hero to villain the next week at Swansea when his poor back pass came up short and allowed Michu to score in a 3-0 defeat.
After the mixed start Collins has gone from strength to strength and has proved to be a shrew bit of business by Allardyce. Barring one error, similar to the Swansea game, at Reading, Collins has been excellent.
The Welshman has become Big Sam’s favoured choice when fit to partner the ever present Winston Reid. For me I think opting for Collins over Tomkins at this stage is the right decision. Tomkins is a very good defender in my eyes and has plenty of potential but is still naive at times positionally and switches off from time to time.In Collins, we have a defender who is exceptionally strong and good in the air, not just in the defensive areas. He has proved his entire career and especially this season how dangerous he can be from attacking set pieces. Look no further than his brace against Manchester United in the FA Cup, not too many defenders can claim a double against United that is for sure.
As well as performing well on the pitch, his attitude and professionalism appears to be admirable. He gives out the impression of a top professional and an experienced head in the dressing room which can only be a good thing. His attitude on the pitch is superb, throwing his body in front of everything and clearly giving it his all week in week out. He is vocal and clearly cares about the club.
Probably the biggest criticism of him would be his pace. When a quick striker or winger runs at him one on one, there is always a worry that he could ghost past him leaving us very susceptible to conceding.
At 29 Collins, in my opinion, still has two or three good years ahead of him. I feel t  here is no reason as to why ‘Ginge’ cannot see out the remaining three years of his contract with us, performing at a high standard and remaining a regular at the heart of our defence.