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THERE are apparently two Collin Samuels, and manager Craig Levein is in no doubt about which one he hopes will turn up on Tuesday night when Dundee United meet St Mirren in the Scottish Cup.

The last time the two men featured in the same third-round tie, the Trinidad & Tobago internationalist was playing for Falkirk, and he scored a hat-trick. It was enough to oust Levein's Hearts from the competition, while capturing headlines and the interest of Sir Alex Ferguson.

"That was at the time when Samuel was a fairly young lad and burst on to the scene with that game," says Levein. "That probably gave him the platform. He's an immensely talented boy, immensely talented, but I do think there's two of him - it just depends which one turns up, basically.

"He's so good sometimes you think: 'This guy is sensational,' and the next week ..." Sometimes, it's a case of, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

"I think he'd probably admit himself his consistency of performance isn't what it should be, but on his day he's fantastic. Even Alex Ferguson phoned and asked me about him after that game. Someone he must have known had phoned him, and said: 'You need to have a look at this kid at Falkirk.' I told Alex he had caught my eye in that match, but other than playing against us, I didn't know much about him. Obviously nothing happened, anyway. He's probably gone along or sent someone, and the other Samuel turned up!"

Levein can afford to joke. It wasn't his career that stuttered after that, a false dawn on what could have been a bright future. And it is he who is currently benefiting from the fact that the forward is not the model of consistency. It frustrates him, but he knows the flaw is what keeps him at Tannadice.

"I know if he produced it every week, he wouldn't be here - that's a fact - but I'm trying to push him and make him realise he's not a kid any more, and should be looking to get into the best years of his footballing career. I don't expect him to hit the heights all the time, but if he could find a level even just below that - where you'd be putting him out saying: 'We know what we're going to get here' - I think that would make him a very valuable player, but his inconsistency is holding him back. It's one of these things that frustrates me. If he really wants to be a top-class player, he's got all the tools. The tool box is just empty sometimes."

Putting that to Samuel minutes later as he reclines in one of the seats in the ground's executive box, it elicits little reaction. "I am in the team right now and scoring goals, and that's my main objective just now, to keep getting the ball in the back of the net as much as possible and keep the team going, keep everyone happy. I do feel pressure, but I go out and try to give my best and try to keep on going, and I would love to score each and every game."

He scored four in the five games prior to yesterday's match at Ibrox, and the fact he is contributing more frequently than has been the case since that glory season at Falkirk in 2002-03 is cause for satisfaction, but he is honest enough to admit that he could offer more.

"It is something I know and I am definitely working on it, because in this country every week you have to be battling away on the pitch, and that's now my main objective, to keep some consistency, and then I can keep on going from there."

And to eliminate the need for two versions of the man. One earns international caps and plays for Trinidad & Tobago in the World Cup, the other, until recently, struggled to secure regular starts in a side fighting to evade relegation.

Mulling over the accusation of dual personality, he offers a rueful smile and concedes. "Sometimes that is it. Sometimes when the games are going on, I feel out of it. Sometimes I feel like going back and giving the team a help, but sometimes I stay up and hope something will fall for me and I can use my pace and get a match-winner."

The look on his face suggests it is not something he is totally at ease with. There is a sadness that such a flaw has curtailed that early promise, even a flicker of resentment that the dreams he assumed were his to realise have, thus far, escaped him. Maybe he is frustrated that he is finally learning that lesson aged 25 rather than addressing the problem when the world was there to conquer.

The shrug is the surly variety. But the opportunity has not passed him by altogether, and if he could harness those feelings, there is a sense he could use them to fuel his advancement.

Of course he cares, but perhaps he just doesn't care enough. It's the inconsistency in desire as much as inconsistency in performance which ring-fences his ambition. Another point his manager nailed was the description of his charge as laid-back, laid-back to the point of seeming indifferent at times.

Maybe that has more to do with the fact he has a carload of team-mates waiting for him; perhaps he just can't be bothered with media intrusion, or maybe he just doesn't like being reminded of a time when his life spiralled out of control, or the fact that his career hasn't quite progressed the way he once anticipated. There are a lot of ifs, buts and maybes, but there have been ever since he broke on to the scene four years ago.

"From that day, when things were going for me at that time, I thought my career would have gone much better, but the next step I took wasn't what I thought it would be, or what I wanted it to be. Things didn't go too well for me after that, and I had to take a look at what was happening and what was going on and take another step forward to try to make a better impression. But after that game the pressure was on week in, week out, and I became the main marked man on the pitch, and everybody was coming after me week in, week out. I definitely tried to keep it going, but it was hard, and things didn't really happen for me.

"At the time I didn't really know what was going on or how to deal with the pressure. I was having to deal with a new situation, and I wanted to move on and try to take myself forward and be the best that I could be. Then I came here and wanted to try to get myself into the team, and I have trained really, really hard."

Having netted 16 goals in his final year at Falkirk, the step up to the Premierleague was tougher than anticipated. Not only more physically demanding, but there was little time for bedding in. In the three full seasons since, he has scored a combined tally of nine goals. It is a paltry total, which underlines the low ebb he claims he found himself at throughout that spell.

Now he is older and wiser when dealing with disappointments, and there is fresh impetus. Confidence was bolstered by a World Cup appearance in the summer and has been aided by the lack of striking competition at Tannadice, and by the extended run in the team in recent weeks.

The season's total stood at five goals prior to this weekend, and in the competition where he made his name he would love to add to the tally and turn back time by capturing headlines once again. This time he is better prepared for dealing with the hype.