JAMES McFadden believes his return to first club Motherwell can see him force his way back into the Scotland squad in time for next month’s World Cup qualifying matches against Wales and Serbia.
The 29-year-old Tartan Army favourite has played just 51 minutes of competitive football so far this season, in three substitute appearances for Sunderland and then his second debut for the Fir Park club as a late replacement during their 1-0 defeat at home to Dundee United on Tuesday night.
Since suffering cruciate knee ligament damage just five days after his 48th and most recent appearance for Scotland back in September 2010, McFadden has yet to complete a full 90 minutes in a competitive fixture.
But the former Everton and Birmingham City forward insists he is ready to make the kind of impact which could earn him a call up from new Scotland manager Gordon Strachan for the Group A fixtures against Wales at Hampden on 22 March and Serbia in Novi Sad four days later. “If I get a run of games for Motherwell, then it’s up to the manager,” said McFadden.
“If I’m doing well, then it wouldn’t be too soon in my mind. The manager might feel differently. When you talk about me coming in to Motherwell and maybe upsetting people and having to put people out of the team or under pressure, I think the last Scotland squad against Estonia had a lot of good players and ones who came in and played well. So it’s kind of the same situation.
“If he [Strachan] feels he needs me, then I feel I can still add to the Scotland team. If he picks me, then I’d be absolutely delighted.”
So often the darling of the Scotland supporters, with 15 goals in his 48 appearances for the national team, McFadden suffered the ignominy of being substituted at half-time by Craig Levein during the excruciating 2-1 Euro 2012 qualifying win over minnows Liechtenstein at Hampden in his last outing.
That experience has only fuelled his desire to renew his international career.
“I definitely have unfinished business with Scotland,” added McFadden. “I can’t let it end on that note. I am still only 29 so, if I can get back playing games, I feel as though I can still add to the party for Scotland.
“It would mean everything to me to get to 50 caps. When I was a young boy, one cap would have been enough for me. But the fact that I am two caps off 50, then it is obviously a big aim.”
McFadden is aware there will be scepticism over his fitness until he is able to complete a sustained run of competitive games but he is adamant his knee problem is fully healed.
“The knee is fine,” he said. “Obviously I have to manage it differently from before, but it’s absolutely fine. I’ve hardly missed a day’s training in the last year and, if I have, it’s been nothing to do with the knee. I just need to build up my match fitness and the rest will come from that. I can definitely get back to my best this season. If I can get three or four games under my belt, I won’t be crap in those games. I will be happy to get them and, hopefully, I will be back to a level I want.
“It is not a mental issue. I have got it set out in my head. I feel good in training, I can move the way I used to move. I just need to play games.
“You can get as fit as you like in training and try your hardest but it is not the same as playing. You need to push your body like you can’t do in training. I want to come off the pitch feeling knackered and drained and want to sleep for days. That is the feeling I want.
“I was close to coming back to Motherwell last summer but I got a call from Sunderland asking me to go down and train. I felt that was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
“I went down there, did well and got a contract. But it didn’t work out the way I would have liked. So I’m back here now and, hopefully, ready to make a difference.
“I don’t have any regrets about going to Sunderland. It was an opportunity to go back to the Premier League and I thought I’d get a chance to play. Sunderland weren’t doing very well but I still didn’t get a chance.
“It was half a case of wasted time for me but I enjoyed it there.
“They are a good bunch of lads and training was excellent. It let me see that I was still a good player. I was doing well in training every day amongst Premier League players. It gave me a wee lift in confidence.
“The last couple of years have been frustrating. It’s not been easy.
“The hardest point was actually quite early on after the injury. I was meant to be back after six months but it wasn’t right.
“I went to the specialist again at the end of that season, after about eight or nine months. I went for a clean-up operation because I had a lot of fluid and pain but I still trained.
“It was only supposed to be a two-week recovery but I came round from the operation and the specialist said he wouldn’t be able to tell how it was for another three months. He couldn’t even tell me if I was going to play again at that point.
“It wasn’t what I was
expecting. That was another six months of recovery
for a clean-up operation. That was the toughest point for me.
“But I never lost faith, not really. You have doubts, you have good days and bad days, but I’ve never thought ‘I can’t do this any more’.
If I had, then I wouldn’t be here, I would have just given up. But I’m here now and I need to play regularly, play every week, and show that I’ve still got it.”