WHEN Christian Nade realised that, despite everything, he loved Scotland too much, he was a highly inconvenient 5900 miles away. “From my window in Bangkok I could see a church,” he says. “I’d never been there before but this night I went in. The service was midnight to 3am and I prayed the whole time and I made a promise. ‘God,’ I said, ‘if you can manage to bring me back to Scotland I will always be faithful to you’.”
He reckons some will think his promise “weird” but hopes others understand it. Love was calling him but so was a country. The woman and he didn’t end up staying together but he might be thirled to Scotland now. He sounds like many a true Scotsman when he says: “I don’t know why I love it here but I do. I don’t really love France anymore. I feel good here.”
Here, today, we’re at a hotel by the Forth Bridge, a neutral halfway point between Edinburgh, where with Hearts he was frequently led into temptation, and Fife, where he is a more mature, contented individual, living in Dalgety Bay and playing for Raith Rovers.
“I can tell you everything that’s on TV any night – that’s how quiet my life is now. Tonight the schedule is not so good so I will watch my Family Guy boxset. I don’t miss my life when it wasn’t quiet. I try not to live by regret but I do regret that period. I wish I’d never done those things. I’d be a much better footballer now.”
That time. Those things. Here’s an example of what he means: “In Edinburgh the nightclubs are only open to 3am but in France it’s six som after Hearts gamesm I would fly to Paris. My favourite place was Le Millenaire on the Champs-Elysees and I would stay ’til closing. On Sunday, the same. Then I would go straight from the nightclub to the airport. The plane back to Edinburgh landed at 9:20am. Sometimes it would be late, of course, but you couldn’t tell me anything because my head was like this [demonstrates greatly enlarged version with his hands]. The coach would say: ‘Oh Christian, you look tired’. ‘You don’t want to know’. ‘Do you want to go to back to bed?’ ‘I haven’t even been yet, but yeah’.”
There’s more where this came from, a lot more. Today feels less like an interview, more of a confession, a great unburdening. Having found God and re-found Scotland, he is excited about the rest of his life, not least the possibility of Raith squeezing into the Premiership play-offs, which would be enhanced by victory at Falkirk today. But, before he can move on, he must consign the past to history and, before he can do that, he must admit everything.
“I want to be honest,” he says, sipping coffee in a tracksuit, and even his tipple of choice comes laced with a confession: “I never used to drink it before because I’m scared of addiction. That’s why I don’t touch alcohol or drugs. But now I need vanilla lattes always. The best ones are in Dunfermline but this is good…”
Even in his relaxed sweats he looks in decent shape. No longer the supersized frontman who was taunted for being a “fat Eddie Murphy”. How many men would it take to carry Nade back over the bridge to Dalgety Bay and his DVDs and his inner peace? Not nine-men-ten-men-11-men as the chant would have it, that’s for sure.
So, let’s go right back to the beginning, to when he first pitched up in Britain, because the craziness started right away and never really let up.
Born in a Paris suburb to a couple who ran their own sanitary business and the middle child of nine, Nade arrived at Neil Warnock’s Sheffield United in 2006 unable to speak a word of English. “My agent told me there were three ways to learn: read newspapers, watch the TV – both difficult – and meet girls.” So where did he encounter women – la bibliotheque, perhaps? “Ha ha, I must be honest: It was a strip club. There was one round the corner from my hotel.”
Nade’s story is full of ironies. He finds a house of God on his doorstep but only long after, in another place, finding a branch of Spearmint Rhino. He spends the wee small hours in a church when once they were allocated, almost as it were religiously, for clubbing. “She was called Rachel and she was very kind to me,” he continues. “Maybe after work she wanted to get home because she lived 40 miles away but she would show me round Sheffield.” And how did the English lessons progress? “I can’t tell you the words she taught me!”
You wouldn’t describe Nade as an Ivorian force-of-nature like Didier Drogba although, as a Blade, he did manage to score the winner against Arsenal. He was shocked, though, by the footballer lifestyle in England’s top flight. “Once on the bus back from West Ham or somewhere Neil Warnock stopped at Domino’s and bought 20 pizzas for the team. That would never happen in France, never.
“I’d come from a place that was much more strict. At French football academy I was away from home from [aged] 11, only seeing my family at weekends, then from 15 only for holidays, and we were training mornings and afternoons and eating good food. At my club Troyes there were 15 fast-food places nearby – McDonald’s, KFC, Quick – but the manager had spies in every one in case we tried to buy hamburgers.”
Alcohol is a non-non for French footballers but in Sheffield Nade discovered a more laissez-faire attitude. “Some guys would come to training hungover. They couldn’t run straight, which was funny. I guess some players need to drink and it’s the same with sex before games.
“For me, there are times when I should make love before football, but other times when I shouldn’t. I must admit that at first I was happy that the UK was more relaxed about everything. When those pizzas came on the bus it was nice. But looking back, for a player like me, it was not good.”
The crucial omission of second training sessions continued at Hearts – and we wonder why British footballers are regularly held up to be technically inferior – although Nade concedes he should have taken personal responsibility for being more disciplined and motivated. Once again he makes the big-headed gesture. “You couldn’t tell me anything. I thought because I’d come from the English Premier League I didn’t need to work or train too hard.”
On transfer-deadline day he arrived at Tynecastle in tears, having not wanted to leave Bramall Lane. Hearts put him up in a grim flat in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Road – “the electricity would break down and it was always cold”. He was red-carded in one of his first games, which sparked a bust-up with manager Anatoly Korobochka. “I almost killed him in the dressing room! Even though I’d apologised to the team but he wouldn’t stop shouting at me.” Then when Warnock tried to take him to Crystal Palace Nade was “mad” at Hearts supremo Vladimir Romanov for blocking the move.
These were strange times down Gorgie way. “The Scottish players would be in one corner, the Lithuanians in another and I would be with the rest of the world.” Like cliques? “Exactly. It was not good. But it changed when Csaba [Laszlo] came and there were less Lithuanians and everyone started to talk to each other.” Laszlo, of course, joked that seeing Nade at the Riccarton training complex for the first time he thought the player was a “fat student” from the university. Hibs fans loved that.
Being something of a Hibees bogeyman has been one of the few constants in the highly erratic life of big Christian. He scored goals against them for Hearts and he is doing it again for Raith. But how did he feel being the subject of so much abuse in the Edinburgh derby? “Honestly, it made me play better. Sometimes I could spot the fans who were singing the ‘One man-two men… ’ song and I’d be like: ‘Woah, you’re really fat! Are you crazy? Calm down!’ ” He remembers a game in which a Hibs player, can’t remember which one, baited him throughout. “He said bad things about my mother. That was the match where I scored when the ball bounced off my belly. Afterwards this guy apologised, saying [Easter Road manager] John Collins had told him to try to make me crazy. But this is football, this is normal.
“Tom Ritchie, who looked after our fitness, told us that before a game against Bordeaux the team learned the names of all the girlfriends so they could say things like: ‘Your wife Nicole? I was with her yesterday’.”
Nade stresses that his three years as a Jambo were not all bad. He moved out to Morningside which was much more to his liking. And there were times, not wingdinging it in Paris, when he enjoyed Edinburgh rather too much. Hearts, he admits, was too much of everything. “Too much money, too much time to spend it, too many cars.” He went through Hummers, Audis, Cadillacs and Lamborghinis. From Nade, there wasn’t enough of the stuff that really mattered – great performances, goals – and there were too many women as well.
“I’m not proud of what I’m about to tell you,” he says. “but I slept with the girlfriends of guys who were spreading rumours about me. It was for revenge but I shouldn’t have done it.” What rumours? “Oh, everything. That I was a pimp, that I was a drug-dealer, that I was earning £20,000 a week, that I was gay. I remember how the pimp thing started. An old girlfriend from Sheffield came up to Hearts to see me play. She brought along six friends, all girls, all blonde. In the warm-up they were screaming my name, which was embarrassing.”
His time in maroon began with tears and a red card and finished the same way. There was also, close to the end, a reported fight with Ian Black. “Not a fight, I punched him. Against Celtic he kicked one of their players and got booked. I was on the bench and saw this but the coach [Jim Jefferies] did not. Afterwards Blackie was asked: ‘What was the booking for?’ ‘Dunno’, he said. I told him not to lie. He told me to shut up, saying I got to do whatever I liked. I said that wasn’t true, that when we lost I was the headline for being lazy. But, you know, the punch didn’t really connect.” I tell him that critics of his goals ratio won’t be surprised to learn he missed that day too. “I know, and I hope they laugh!”
Then Nade’s football adventuring took him to Cyprus, South Africa and Vietnam, each time further away from Scotland, before Thailand and Samut Songkhram. “Thailand is not famous for the best things and I’m glad I don’t drink. I saw what it did to those who do.” Has the bevvy not even sparked a bit of curiosity? “No. There are two things I’ve never been curious to try – alcohol and men. I don’t drink because I always want to know what I’m doing, even when it’s wrong.” Was he curious about religion before? “My parents are very religious but I wasn’t until I found myself looking for support. I was earning good money in Thailand but I was feeling really bad. I needed a faith.”
God kept his side of the bargain and Nade made it back to Scotland, first trying East Fife and when that didn’t work out, heading for Dundee to help them back to the top flight. He scored in the title-clinching victory, doffing his shirt to reveal a ripped torso, a sign of the new, improved Christian whom a fitness coach was keen to use for before-and-after promo of a body transformed. He hoped to stay at Dens but a new contract wasn’t forthcoming. “I was mad at the coach [Paul Hartley] but this is football, this is normal.” Then along came Raith whom he describes as “the right team for me, in the right league as well”, although for Nade the dramas weren’t quite over.
Did he keep his side of the bargain and sign up with God’s team? “Not right away. But then some things happened; there were many troubles in my personal life. I can’t speak about this but it was my worst time. Raith helped me, though, and sent a pastor to see me. They’re a great club.” Nade was pointed in the direction of Kirkcaldy’s Zion Praise Centre, run by Father Joe Nwokoye and where ex-Raith and Rangers defender Marvin Andrews is a lay preacher. Now he’s a regular there.
He talks about his big family – older brother Raphael, who played for Carlisle United and Woking and Michel, 15, at St Etienne who’s going to the best of the lot. “Next week my big sister Emma, who I’ve not seen for two years, is coming to visit. We’re all scared of her, even now!”
He talks, in that candid French manner, about the women he’s known, like the girlfriend who used too much creme fraiche in her cooking and the girlfriend who was “too good for me”. He says: “Women, to be with footballers, must have really, really strong personalities because we’re like kids, even the 30-year-old ones. For a player, a woman must be a lover but also a mother. It’s bad, I know, that the man needs this but it’s football, it’s normal. Before, I needed to be told ‘No, Christian – you’re not doing that’ or ‘You’re staying with me tonight’ but the women were not strong enough. Now I have a girlfriend like that and it’s good.”
It’s football, it’s normal, it’s a mantra – one for footballers to sometimes hide behind. Previously for Nade this was a life of excess but he is trying to find normality that is more like the rest of us understand it. For this he thanks his girlfriend, his agent Derek Day, Raith – and of course God. Before every game now he reads Psalm 91: “Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place… no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.”
This passage contains empowering stuff about “trampling serpents underfoot”. Nade has more modest aspirations for whatever is left of the career. “Fans, friends, uncles – they said I’d be finished at 28. I had a bad reputation before and I deserved it. But now I think I’m a little bit smarter, a little bit of a better man and a little bit of a better footballer, too.”
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