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Spiers on Saturday: meeting James McFadden

I wondered whether the word "fulfilled" would actually come from James McFadden's lips.

James McFadden has been back to his mercurial best in recent weeks. Picture: Colin Templeton
James McFadden has been back to his mercurial best in recent weeks. Picture: Colin Templeton

But it does. The 30-year-old Motherwell striker, whose career has been blighted by injuries for three years, offers an upbeat appraisal of his life in football.

I met McFadden in the Motherwell players' lounge where, for all his star status, he quietly goes about his lunch, blending in with the rest, back where it all started for him.

Remember, this is a guy who, for 20 months between 2011 and early 2013, was shunted around various clubs in England, all of them proving unwilling to take a chance on him after a bad knee injury.

You could forgive McFadden for feeling a degree of self-pity at the way his career in England was disrupted. But none is there. "I don't have any regret in me," he says. "But I know for a fact that, if I had never got injured, I would still be playing in the Premier League in England. But that's life; you have to deal with what's thrown at you.

"I'm not in hell. I'm not in a bad place. I'm still playing football at the highest level in Scotland, and I still enjoy it. Motherwell is where I started out and, if this was as good as it had got for me, I would have been happy. I've been very fortunate - I've played at the top in England, I've played in Europe, and I've played for my country. I'm very lucky. I feel privileged.

"I don't feel hard done by and I don't feel as though I've made mistakes. I feel I've been very fortunate in my career. I signed for Motherwell when I was 16 and my sole aim was to play for the first team. As it turned out, things got even better for me. I feel I've enjoyed a really good career."

None the less, those dark months following one Friday morning in August 2010 at Birmingham City are not forgotten. According to McFadden it was "an innocuous training-ground clash" which led to him suffering cruciate ligament damage in his left knee, which cruelly interrupted his time in the top flight of British football. He was just 27 and, out of nowhere, was suddenly told the worst news.

"I was gutted to be injured in that period, but I knew what I had to do to get back. Having done all the rehab [in season 2010-11], I was still getting swelling and soreness, so looking back, my rehab was probably a bit too aggressive: too much too soon. But I felt like I was flying.

"I knew it wasn't right, so the surgeon took another look and then told me he wasn't sure if I would play again. That was definitely the hardest part of it. My knee is fine now - it is totally healed - but I just have to manage it properly. Not too much hard training, and certainly not too much on astroturf. Stuff like that. But I'm fine, honest."

McFadden's sudden career cul-de-sac provided an ecstatic moment for Motherwell supporters. Having left Birmingham for Everton and then Sunderland, and then when talks to join Celtic fell through, he made the decision last year to bring his wife and four young children back north, to settle in Hamilton and pick up his career again at Fir Park.

The beloved son came home.

"Now I just need to get a bit of form back," says McFadden. "I came back to Motherwell last year and did pretty well, but I've struggled this year a bit. By my standards - and the standards that other people set for me - I've not been good enough. I've not been able to have a big influence in games, which is what I should be doing for Motherwell.

"I had a bit of a dodgy spell at the start of the season, when I had niggly hamstring and back injuries. I kept playing on, hoping everything would be alright, but it turned out I'd actually torn my hamstring. So I had to go back and do the rehab for a normal hamstring injury.

"I'm fine now. I just need to play some games and get confident again. People remember me here when I was young, when I had bags of confidence, when I could take people on. I know I can still play decent football."

On this very theme, I asked McFadden what the mental difference was between being the young, gallus footballer, like a rock star - as he was back then - and today, aged 30, with his greater worldly awareness.

"I think when you're younger it doesn't bother you so much if you have a bad game. You've always got next week, you never look too far ahead, and you never really think that it's not going to last forever. Then, as you get older, you realise it is going to stop at some point.

"Personally, I now dwell on things that maybe I shouldn't, like if I make a couple of mistakes. It annoys me now when I make mistakes. And sometimes I try too hard now to put it right. That's the difference.

"I still enjoy the game as much as when I started - otherwise I wouldn't do it. I love playing football as much as I ever did. This is not a job to me at all. My wife and I laugh whenever I suggest I'm going off to work. I mean . . . this isn't work."

It has been noted by some that McFadden's languid, less-industrious style is not suited to the modern, athletic game. I even put it to him that he was a 1970s footballer, not one of this current age. He disputes this.

"I was four and a half years at Everton, and the manager [Davie Moyes] expected you to run back; it was demanded of you. You couldn't do anything less than run up and down, there was no hiding from it.

"So I'm not a player that doesn't do a shift for the team. If I need to run back, I'll run back - it's now part of the game. But I still think, to get the best out of me, I need to play further forward, higher up the park."

The young pony-tailed pop star is now a family man, and it is quite something to witness McFadden glow with pride and love over his young family.

His time away from football is consumed with James (7), Emily (5), Toby (3) and a baby, Lily-Mae. "I get a lot of pleasure from my kids," he says. "It's a great thing to be able to bring a kid into the world and teach them the ways of the world. In any situation - if you feel down or fed-up - they are a great distraction.

"When I was child-free and in my house, if I'd had a bad game I'd just sit there with my thoughts. You get time to think about things, and maybe over-think things. But not any more. I take my kids to school every morning and I've to be at the school gate to get them at 3 o'clock.

"Then I take them swimming. We then get home and I get their dinners ready, and then I've to get them into their baths. When I finally sit down at nine o'clock I'm like, 'wow . . . phew!' But I love it."

And the future? McFadden says he has learned that he cannot look much beyond the 12 months that are ahead of him. "The last three years have told me that it is pretty difficult to plan far into the future. As I get older, and I sign a contract for a year here or there, there's not much planning you can do.

"Now that I feel better, I hope I can get back to a level of playing that I am happy with. As long as I manage my body right, I don't see why I can't go on playing for another few years. I'm enjoying my football again - that is the main thing.

"Right now I've got no aspirations or aims. I just want to continue enjoying playing the game."

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