James McFadden: My best years can still be ahead

THERE is still something of the old James McFadden that has survived two years largely lost to a serious knee injury. He still has a penchant for a sticky-up-bit of hair on the top of his head and, indeed, the hairdo sported by the 29-year-old yesterday as he promoted former Motherwell team-mate Steven Hammell’s testimonial could have belonged to the days when the pair were teenagers coming through the YTS ranks at Lanarkshire club together.

THERE is still something of the old James McFadden that has survived two years largely lost to a serious knee injury. He still has a penchant for a sticky-up-bit of hair on the top of his head and, indeed, the hairdo sported by the 29-year-old yesterday as he promoted former Motherwell team-mate Steven Hammell’s testimonial could have belonged to the days when the pair were teenagers coming through the YTS ranks at Lanarkshire club

together.

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McFadden is currently a free agent after being released by Everton – whom he will face as a guest player when they provide the opposition for Hammell’s game tomorrow. Pre-season training has come courtesy of the Fir Park club but, as yet he has received no offers that have made him want to pack up his kitbag. And he admits there are those harbouring the notion that he has effectively already packed it up on a permanent basis.

“I have a hunger to get playing and show people what I can do,” McFadden said. “Some people think I’m in my 30s and I’m finished so I’ve got extra determination to prove to myself and everyone else that I’m over the injuries.”

McFadden responds instantly when asked if he has any fears about his best days being behind him. “I don’t fear that. I came back last year at Everton and, despite not playing many games, I trained every day. It was difficult at the start but, towards the end, I was more than holding my own in training. I just couldn’t get a game but I probably felt better than I did before I got injured. These should be my peak years. I’ve had a couple out so I hope they’re still ahead of me.

“It has to be the right club for me. This is a big year because I’ve been out of the game for the past two, basically. It has to be somewhere I’m going to play and enjoy it. I’m ready to play. I need games to get match fit but I feel fine. I just need someone to give me a contract.

“I’ve had a couple of offers but none that have been good enough so I’ll just wait it out and see what I get.”

McFadden has no regrets about returning to Everton. “Mentally, it was great to go back and prove I could still do it training with top-class players every day,” he said.

McFadden originally left the Goodison Park club to join Birmingham City for a £5.5million fee in January 2008. That switch reunited him with Alex McLeish, for whom he performed heroics for Scotland, not least with his 35-yard howitzer that earned a win against France in Paris..

But, as with his club career, he has made no impact at international level in the past two seasons. His last experience of playing for his country, days before he damaged his cruciate ligament, proved particularly sour with Craig Levein replacing him at half-time against Liechtenstein and describing the forward’s display as “lazy”.

McFadden agrees he did feed off the Tartan Army and has missed the buzz of playing for his country. Having scored 13 times and earned 48 caps, he has been a significant performer in ignominious times. And he does not believe his relationship with Levein will determine whether he adds to that cap tally.

“I’m comfortable enough in that he’s the manager and he picks the team. I’m a player and I do what he tells me to. I’ve not spoken to him since the Liechtenstein game, since I have been injured. I wouldn’t say I’ve got a relationship with him but he is the manager. If he picks me then I am willing to do whatever he wants me to do. I think if we’re going to start discarding players after one bad game then there is maybe something wrong there.

“I definitely still have international ambitions. I have missed it as there is nothing better than playing for your country, especially at Hampden, and it’s something I won’t give up on. If I can get back fit and playing as well as I know I can, I know I’m good enough to play for my country.”

McFadden established himself as a Scotland regular in the same Euro 2004 qualifying campaign that brought the breakthrough for Darren Fletcher. The two were expected to be crucial

presences as experienced campaigners. Now both face uncertain futures with Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson conceding last week that Fletcher was not ready to start training again following the eight-month rest period he undertook in a bid to alleviate a chronic bowel condition.

“You don’t know what’s round the corner,” McFadden said. “I certainly didn’t think after my last match that it would be at least two years before my next game for Scotland. Realistically, it will probably be longer, for whatever reason. In Fletch’s case, he has had an illness come out of nowhere and is unable to train. I feel more for him than I do for myself.

“I can get back on a training field and do the thing that I love. He’s not been training and is trying to cope with his illness. I have seen him a couple of times. It’s a hard situation for him. He is still young and has the time to get himself right and get back playing. Obviously, he has a good manager who is giving him all the time he needs. That can only help. He is at perhaps the biggest club in the world and I’m sure he has the best people looking after him.”

Right now, though, the

only person looking out for

McFadden is the man himself.