The talk might all be about James McFadden after the Scotland internationalist rejoined the club last night, but Motherwell know they have a job to complete this evening.
The Fir Park side aim to consolidate second position in the league when they entertain Dundee United in an already twice-postponed fixture.
Ahead of the official announcement that McFadden had signed until the end of the season, Stuart McCall, the Fir Park manager, quickly realised he was fighting a losing battle to keep discussion about McFadden to a minimum at his afternoon press conference, particularly since he was holding his pre-match briefing in a room festooned with shirts from different periods of the player’s career.
There were those from his early Motherwell days, from Birmingham City, from Everton and from Scotland. Everywhere McCall looked in the Motherwell kitman’s storeroom there was a reminder of the topic outsiders wished was top of the agenda but the manager wanted to relegate to a side-issue, before he gamely conceded defeat.
McCall acknowledged that he was keen to get the question of the player’s future sorted out in what was a re-run of the situation that developed in the summer, when the player was again invited in by Motherwell to train. McFadden was searching for a new deal after being released by Everton. In the end, he signed for Sunderland on a short-term contract.
McFadden scored 32 goals for Motherwell before leaving for Goodison Park in 2003. He will be returning to a club where spirits are high following a run of form which has seen the team earn 13 points from their last five home fixtures. Saturday’s 3-0 defeat of nearest challengers Inverness Caledonian Thistle was the latest impressive statement of their intent to finish runners-up to Celtic.
McCall pointed out that McFadden won’t stroll into the team, with other contenders desperate for a chance. “Bob McHugh’s done really well, he’s chomping at the bit, he scored a hat-trick in the reserves last week and he’s going to be our long-term future,” said McCall, who is conscious of rewarding young players.
Regular first-team striker Henrik Ojamaa said he would welcome McFadden signing. “If anything happens [with McFadden], it’s a bonus,” he said yesterday. “If you look at our squad now, going forward we’ve got great options. I think the squad we have now is good enough to go for the second spot. There’s no doubt about that. But a player of his calibre would benefit any team.”
Ojamaa said he was “aware what a big star he was here”, while he also recalls him playing – and scoring – for Scotland against his Estonian compatriots in a friendly international in 2004. Ojamaa described the prospect of finishing runners-up to champions-elect Celtic as a “massive achievement”, although he is aware that others have the position in their sights.
“It’s so tight now that every game could be a swing in either direction,” he said. “We’ve also got a game in hand now which would be great to win. That would put a bit of a gap between us and the chasing teams. Dundee United are a great team – some of their attacking players like Johnny Russell and Gary Mackay-Steven are quality players. It’s always good to watch them play. We know their strengths and we’ve got to make sure we deal with them.
“There are a number of teams that are a threat to us,” he added. “Inverness have played great for most of the season – they have some really good players going forward and it’s no surprise that they are up there.
“Also Dundee United, like I say, with the threats they have, and possibly Aberdeen can still make a run for it.”