CHRISTIAN NADE tells me a painful story about a time, aged 13, when he was beaten up in Paris by a carer who was supposed to be looking after him. The experience was mercifully brief, lasting a matter of weeks after his parents had divorced, but it sums up the chaotic story of this footballer’s life.

I met Nade for coffee last week and was surprised to find him courteous, sweet-natured, an amiable and gentle man. His football career has brought him, at the age of 30, to Hamilton Academical, having started so brightly in France, been lampooned at Hearts, and having plumbed the depths and cried his eyes out in places like Thailand and Vietnam.

“I am proud of where I am today, and very happy to be playing for Hamilton,” Nade told me. “Not many players have come back from where I have been. I have been to the very worst places in football.”

Nade was 21 years old and – yes, get this – a prolific goalscorer for Troyes youth teams in France when the intervention of an enterprising French agent won him a move to the English Premier League and supreme wealth at Sheffield United. By his own admission he was suddenly swimming in money, earning £15,000 a week in 2006. It was the start of his painful downfall.

“I used to spend all my money . . . spend, spend, spend,” he says. “I spent it on cars, I’d spend it on people I didn’t even know. I spent money stupidly.

“I used to spend £1000 a day. On what, I don’t know. Everything. I’d go in to a shop in Sheffield and I’d say ‘I’ll have this, and this, and this.’ I would say to my friend, ‘take what you want, I’ll buy it.’ I was a young boy back then and my mentality was terrible. I have many regrets.”

Football fans in Scotland who witnessed the non-scoring rusting hulk that Nade became at Hearts may find it hard to believe that he had made a decent impression early on in Sheffield, forming a good relationship with Rob Hulse and scoring a magnificent winner against Arsenal in the Premiership in 2006-07.

But Nade’s off-field recklessness was already undermining his career. He left his £15,000 a week gig in Yorkshire to earn £4500 a week at Hearts – still not bad money amid the Vladimir Romanov mayhem at Tynecastle – and his unravelling would continue.

“Many things happened to me at Hearts,” says Nade. “First of all I had been told that Neil Warnock, my old Sheffield United manager, who had moved to Crystal Palace, wanted to take me there in six months’ time, so I told Hearts I needed no signing on fee or anything, because I believed I would only be there for a short while. But I ended up staying three years.

“And then Hearts made me play in a position I had never played before – the target man. It wasn’t my style. At Sheffield I had played with Rob Hulse – a target man – and I had played off him. But at Hearts they asked me to play a position I had never played. I thought, ‘oh no . . . I don’t know what to do.’”

It went from bad to worse for Nade at Hearts. He struggled to show any sign of his stunning play as a teenager in France, and saw his weight and body-shape go to pot. Driving a Lamborghini, he says his Edinburgh neighbours would regularly hear him arriving home at 4am.

“In one of my first games for Hearts, on a really bad pitch, every ball I tried to get to, it just bounced everywhere,” he says. “They asked me to play with my back to goal, which I had never done, and every ball that came to me bounced off me. It was terrible.

“Also, when I came to Hearts, my gym work stopped, and my body started to bulk. I became very conscious of my weight – which I had never been before – and this issue has never left me, even though today I am as fit and lean as I have been in 10 years.

“I was in terrible shape by the time I left Hearts. I thought, ‘I’ve wasted my time, I’ve wasted my chance here.’ I wasn’t focusing on football, I was focusing on partying. I say ‘partying’ but I don’t drink, I never have. But I was just enjoying my life.

“I had no discipline. No-one could tell me what to do. I wasn’t disrespectful, because that is not the way I am. I just didn’t listen.”

After Hearts, Nade suffered a terrible downward spiral. He had a brief period with Alki Larnaca of Cyprus in 2010 before his career plumbed the depths with small clubs – though paying decent money – in Thailand and Vietnam. By 2012, he says, he was ready to quit football, depressed at the manner in which he had squandered his career.

“I went to Thailand [to play for Samut Songkhram] and I just started crying this day. The pitch we trained on, the club, the set-up, it was all wrong. Before then, I’d been in South Africa for a trial with two clubs, but it hadn’t worked out.

“An agent said to me, ‘give it one more go . . . there is a club in Vietnam.’ So I went there, but Vietnam was horrible. The lifestyle was horrible. They put me in their academy, and I was alone, and the shower was outside, and it wasn’t clean, and there were lizards everywhere. That’s when I thought, ‘I need to stop this. I want to go home to my mother in France.’

In the face of all this, Nade’s comeback to the top flight in Scotland is remarkable. Today he is contrite, lean and fit-looking, but he carries the mental scars of the years where he went wrong. He turned up, improbably, at East Fife in 2013, and then played for Dundee and Raith Rovers before a caring agent, Derek Day, and Alex Hamilton, who works in sponsorship for Hamilton Accies, cajoled him into further self-discipline and paved the way for his move to New Douglas Park.

“I owe these two men a lot – they have saved my career,” says Nade. “Today, after all my indiscipline, I feel proud. I have fought my way back to a good level of football, when many people believed I would never play again. I am 30, I have 9.5% body fat, I feel really good, I can train with no pain. I am happy.

“Maybe I could have – should have – been playing at a higher level. But I am here because I have not been smart. I have not been strong enough or smart enough to push my career on in the way I should have done.”

So conscious is Nade about his weight issue that he had even started to starve himself in order to lick himself into shape. As happy as he is today, that complex still stalks him.

“I do think about it, and sometime I have problems. I don’t want to eat and I don’t want to put on weight. This is on my mind. After one early training session with Hamilton, I didn’t feel well, I felt dizzy. I said to them, ‘I don’t want to eat, I’m scared of putting on weight.’ But they said to me, ‘Christian, you are fine now, your body is fine, just eat normally.’

“It is all still in my head. I say to myself, ‘you’re fat, you’re too fat.’ So I now have to convince myself that my body-weight, and my condition, are fine.

“I’m trying to be a perfectionist with my weight now. I love the way I look: I feel much, much better and I want to stay this way. I’ve made so many mistakes in my career, I don’t want to make any more.”