The Scottish Mail on Sunday
McFadden just not quite ready to be retiring type
JAMES McFADDEN spent a year operating as an assistant manager but it took only 20 minutes of football to convince the 34-year-old that he is not quite ready to hang up his boots. McFadden appeared as a substitute in Motherwell’s final Premiership match of the season and managed to mark the occasion by scoring with his first touch.
The 3-2 defeat at Inverness was to prove his final act in claret and amber but, having been released by manager Steve Robinson, he won’t immediately seek a route back into coaching.
He is grateful to Mark McGhee for handing him extra responsibility at Fir Park a year ago but now fit after a season interrupted by injury, he wants to have one last crack at playing.
He said: ‘When Mark left I knew my time at Motherwell was probably going to come to an end but I still have a desire to play and that’s something I will look at.
‘I enjoyed the coaching but getting those last 20 minutes at Inverness gave me the buzz back. Getting to go and play, run about and enjoy myself was great.
‘I’m not ready to retire. Everybody I’ve spoken to has said play as long as you can. I don’t want to give up now, go down the coaching road and then a year or two from now feel that I should have had another go at playing.’
For someone whose career burned so bright as a youngster, it seems like McFadden’s career has barely had an opportunity to fizzle out.
Already a full internationalist when, as a 20-year-old, he first left Motherwell to sign for Everton in 2003, McFadden scored the first in a series of touchstone Scotland goals later that year in a Euro 2004 play-off victory over Holland at Hampden.
The defining moment of his career came via his majestic long-range strike to beat France in the Parc des Princes in 2007 and a £5million transfer to Birmingham City soon followed.
Once hailed as a ‘cheeky boy’ by Berti Vogts, McFadden proved a talisman for not only the German but also Walter Smith and Alex McLeish before an anterior cruciate ligament injury stopped him in his tracks. Through subsequent moves back to first Everton, then Motherwell, he never truly looked like the same player who notched 15 goals for his country, many of them spectacular.
The last of his 48 caps came in ignominious circumstances when he was substituted at half-time in a slog of a Euro qualifier against Liechtenstein by Craig Levein.
Once a ball-hungry forward, who loved dribbling off the left wing, preferably past as many defenders as possible, McFadden trudged through brief spells at Sunderland and St Johnstone before settling in at Motherwell for a third spell.
‘I need somebody to come in and accept that I’m not the same player I used to be,’ he admits. ‘I’m 34 now and I know what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. I’ve learned that through experience.
‘I’m good on the ball, that quality is still there, but I don’t believe that I can go and beat every player with the ball anymore!
‘I used to try that but I think I make better decisions now.
‘I can get myself to a decent fitness level again — it’s not as if I’m done, I’m knackered and can’t do it anymore.
‘I train every day. I just want to go and make an impact on games.’
Having made just 10 appearances in two seasons for Motherwell, this truly does look like the last throw of the dice for McFadden.
Never lightning-quick anyway, McFadden is no longer fuelled by the same energy that made him the most exciting Scottish player of his generation but, placed in the right team, he believes he can still contribute.
An aborted move to Philadelphia in late 2015 gave him a taste for a shot at foreign fields but, equally, he knows he may not be in a position to pick and choose his next destination.
‘I will consider whatever comes up — playing, coaching or even management. I would consider anything. I would prefer it to be abroad but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve made no secret of the fact I would go for it if it was right.
‘It would be something new — I’ve played up here, I’ve been down south. I don’t want to just plod along.
‘I’ve always wanted to challenge myself. Whether it’s now to play or later as a coach, it’s something I would like to try to broaden my horizons.
‘America would interest me. Philadelphia didn’t work out but they are expanding the leagues, so there may be opportunities.’
McFadden won’t go into the details behind his departure from Motherwell but it is clear he found the managerial methods of McGhee and Robinson to be entirely distinct from each other.
Always a free spirit as a player, it’s no surprise to learn that he enjoyed working under the impulsive McGhee. ‘When the gaffer asked me to be his assistant, I hesitated at first,’ he says. ‘But not for one moment do I regret that move.
‘Mark was a great man manager who knew how to get people going and loved the tactical side of it. He liked to try stuff.
‘Robbo came in and everything was planned and meticulous. It was good to learn that side too.
‘You take experience from everybody. I learned the other side of it, the planning that goes into putting a training session on, picking a team dealing with players and recruiting them. ‘I’ve learned loads.’ While Gordon Strachan’s Scotland squad prepared for last night’s game against England, McFadden was quietly working away on the SFA’s coaching course in pursuit of his A Licence.
If successful, he intends to use the qualification sooner rather than later, but wants one last flourish.
‘I feel like there are things I can share,’ he continues, ‘and while I wouldn’t specifically be looking for a player/coach role, I would take one.
‘Maybe I’ll get to experience something a wee bit different. I don’t want people to look and say: “Ach he’s old and we don’t want him for this or that”.
‘I want to go and enjoy it.’