Nothing ill-becomes James McFadden’s colourful career like the manner of its ending. It began one misty Boxing Day in Motherwell, is roundly viewed to have peaked in Paris 11 years ago before drawing to a close in rather humdrum fashion in Dumfries at the end of last year.
McFadden didn’t know his playing days were over as he exchanged handshakes at the end of a 0-0 draw between Queen of the South and Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the start of December. No one did.
But that is how a journey that had started the day after Christmas in 2000 against Dundee at Fir Park finished – as a second-half substitute in a goalless clash in front of 1,293 people.
It’s not how someone who lit up an often bleak period for Scotland fans deserved to go out but he insists there are no regrets. How could there be?
“I would have been happy with one cap but I got 48 and scored 15 goals,” he says. “People only remember one of them, but I remember the rest.”
He is of course referring to the winning goal over France in 2007, the inspirational moment his career is so often boiled down to. But there was so much more, including 14 other goals for his country.
There was a winner against the Netherlands in a Euro 2004 play-off, a solo strike v FYR Macedonia and the decisive goal in a thrilling 3-1 win over Ukraine just a month after the famous victory in France.
Then there’s his club career, which took off at his first club Motherwell, where he had two further spells, and continued for nine lucrative, if injury-disrupted, years down south, at Everton, Birmingham City and Sunderland. Not that McFadden is someone you associate with chasing money.
He was a glorious throwback to the type of player of yesteryear who existed to excite fans. It’s why he had burrowed his way into Scotland supporters’ affections long before he struck the 35-yard shot over Mickael Landreau on a night of nights in Paris.
McFadden was officially unveiled as part of new Scotland manager Alex McLeish’s backroom team earlier this week. It’s a part-time role he intends to treat as full-time.
Among the consequences of McLeish, pictured, recruiting McFadden, who turns 35 next month, is the striker deciding to shelve thoughts of prolonging his playing career. The magic boots have been hung up. Stop all the clocks, cut off the rat-tail. As recently as January, and following his release from Queen of the South, McFadden was considering moving abroad to play. He said he had put in too much work to regain his fitness to think about quitting now.
However, quit he has.
“I don’t think playing is feasible for me [anymore],” he says. “Although this is not a full-time role, I will need to be watching games and players. That might also mean going through and watching boys training in that environment.
“I need to give this job everything I’ve got because it is so important for me. I need to be there for the manager.”
He regards slipping back into a Scotland tracksuit as ample compensation: “I’ve been walking around here [Hampden] like I’m on cloud nine.”
Berti Vogts’ cheeky boy is now all grown up. Not that he’s embarrassed about those early days.
Early indiscretions included a dodgy haircut and failing to make a flight home following a night of carousing at the end of a Far East tour in 2002. He more than made up for this with what he produced on the field and the succour he handed the Tartan Army during some trying times.
He would happily accept such waywardness now from one of his charges if it meant a return of one goal every three games – what McFadden provided.
“I think if you have a guy who can score goals and win you games, you won’t be too bothered,” he says.
“We love a maverick and someone who’s a wee bit different. So it’s up to the guys in this squad now to step up to the plate.
“Leigh Griffiths is obviously not in this squad because he isn’t fit but he will be in squads in future. So I’m sure he will want to be that player because we all know how he approaches the game. We want to see exciting football.
“We want guys playing with confidence, playing with a swagger and trying to do well.” McFadden scored his first goal in a 3-1 win over the Faroe Islands 15 years ago and his last in a 2-0 victory over Macedonia in 2009. He was controversially taken off at half-time by Craig Levein in what proved his last cap – against Liechtenstein.
“Everybody I meet still speaks about the Paris goal – even people I know and haven’t spoken to for a while talk about it,” says McFadden. “I scored 15 in total and they were all special. My first one against the Faroe Islands was probably the most special because I never thought I was going to play for my country. So, first, to play and then score a goal at Hampden – you can’t beat it.”
There were ups and there were downs, most strikingly within the space of five days in November 2003. McFadden scored the winner at Hampden over the Netherlands in the first leg of the play-off for Euro 2004 and travelled with his team-mates full of confidence for the second leg.
“We thought we were going to win – not just the play-off but the whole tournament,” he says.
Adding to the good vibes was news the Netherlands were introducing a little known teenager: the 19 year-old Wesley Sneijder. “We thought ‘great’ but he ran the show,” recalls McFadden. The hosts were 6-0 up after 66 minutes.
Sneijder, who only retired from international football earlier this month after winning 133 caps, scored the opener and set up two more.
“That was also another occasion where we thought: ‘It’s alright, we’ll get another shot’,” reflects McFadden. “We’re thinking ‘We’ll do it the next time’. But that never happened. We’re still waiting for it.”
Now back in harness, McFadden can at least help put things right.