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Plenty Of Life Left In Scotland's Cheeky Boy

Thursday 1st March 2012
I always fancied myself as a great judge of footballer, even at the age of ten - so I didn't let the fact that my dad and sister's opinion on the newest Motherwell youngster differed affect my opinion. It was Boxing Day in 2000 and the only positive from a 3-0 defeat to Dundee on a foggy afternoon was the cameo from 17-year-old James McFadden, who seemed like confidence personified, with a “rat tail” growing from his hair. The cockiness of the Glasgow youngster was something Motherwell fans would be seeing a lot more of.

He would only make seven appearances that season, but it was the following year he made a big impact. Motherwell squandered a 2-0 lead to Aberdeen at home in November 2001 and after Aberdeen had equalised, “Faddy” was introduced. The teenager reinvigorated the Motherwell side and his fine headed winner, the first of his ten goals that season, marked his arrival on the scene. His performances that season proved great on-field therapy to Motherwell as financial problems were occurring off the field, resulting in the club going into administration. Many lost their jobs but McFadden's was saved on the virtue of his talent and being a sellable asset.

His form in 2001/02 attracted the attention of Scotland manager Berti Vogts and McFadden was called up for a series of games at the end of the season. It was a mixed trip for McFadden, despite winning his first cap against South Africa, he missed his flight home after a late night drinking session. It was hoped he had learned his lesson but it didn't dent his confidence, as he returned for the new Motherwell season with a red stripe in his hair now accompanying the rat tail flowing from it.

McFadden's performances in the 2002/03 season, a bittersweet one for Motherwell, proved he would be playing his football on a bigger stage in the not too distant future. Motherwell finished bottom, but escaped relegation by default, as Falkirk's stadium did not meet league criteria. However, in that season Motherwell managed to beat each of the top six teams and reached the Scottish Cup semi-final. McFadden amassed 19 goals, including a goal in every round of the Scottish Cup, winners against both halves of the Old Firm and a superb final day hat-trick against Livingston. In a fine season for him personally, he won three more Scotland caps and the Scottish Players' Young Player of the Year.

This form saw McFadden become a club legend at the age of only 19. An image that will stick with Motherwell fans forever will be that of McFadden falling to his knees in tears on the penultimate game of the season, as a 3-2 defeat to Aberdeen saw Motherwell consigned to bottom place. McFadden had feared relegation and knew that with Motherwell already in financial trouble, it may have severe implications, but thanks to Falkirk's failings they were saved.

Motherwell fans were endeared to McFadden by the fact he scored a number of different types of goals, his range of ability typified by his hat-trick against Livingston. The first was a tap in from two yards, the second an audacious chipped penalty and the third a solo goal where he left half the Livingston team for dead before slotting home. McFadden had the ability to score top drawer goals against top drawer sides.

Many talented players have emerged from Motherwell in the past, but McFadden was by some margin the most talented player to come through the ranks in years. His departure seemed inevitable, with reports of Celtic, Rangers, various top flight teams south of the border and even German club Bayer Leverkusen reported to be interested. But McFadden was still a Motherwell player come the kick off of the 2003/04 season.

After recovering from a pre-season injury, he scored three times in his first three games. As the Scottish transfer window closed McFadden remained a Motherwell player, but the English window was open for longer and in that time a £1.25 million deal went through for McFadden. It was the most mixed feelings I have ever felt towards a transfer, yes we were losing the Motherwell player of my generation but the funds were crucial to the club's survival. McFadden departed for Merseyside club Everton very much considered a club legend for his exploits on the field, but shortly after he left it was announced his transfer fee would see Motherwell come out of administration, increasing his hero status with the Fir Park faithful.

Between his final game for Motherwell and his first game for Everton, McFadden reached a landmark by scoring his first goal for his country in his fifth cap. I was present at Hampden Park that day as he scored in a 3-1 victory over the Faroe Islands and I was obviously delighted for him to achieve such a feat, but part of me wished he had ticked an international goal off whilst still a Motherwell player.

Despite not making an immediate impact at Everton, McFadden was making headlines at international level. In a European Championship play-off match, McFadden's one-two with Darren Fletcher from a corner saw the Everton man loop a left footed effort into the net, giving Scotland an unlikely 1-0 lead going into the second leg. It would not be the last time he would mastermind a famous Scotland victory.

McFadden seemed to have a torrid time breaking his duck for Everton and his frustration was added to when he missed a penalty in the League Cup in September 2004. He eventually scored on New Year's Day 2005 against Tottenham and only had to wait a week for his second, against Plymouth in the FA Cup. By this time, he had managed another five at International level, installing himself as the nation's talisman.

Everton enjoyed a fine start to the 2004/05 season, although the 4-5-1 system played didn't cater to McFadden's strengths. The rigid way Everton set their stall out didn't allow for players to express themselves much and it was that kind of creative freedom that McFadden had made his name by. Kevin Kilbane was preferred on the left hand side and Marcus Bent's ability to hassle defenders and bring others into play saw him the chosen front man.

Everton's style of play the next season suited McFadden more, as the arrival of James Beattie saw them play more openly. Although not a guaranteed starter, McFadden was given some opportunities to play alongside Beattie and as well as being provider on many occasions, he netted seven times himself. He rounded off the season winning the Kirin Cup with Scotland in Japan, netting in a 5-1 victory over Bulgaria in the process.

Despite having his most successful season for the Toffees, his chances of building upon this the next season were hindered by the signing of Andy Johnson. This, coupled with a broken metatarsal, saw McFadden endure a frustrating season. As ever, he managed to put any frustrations at club level to one side when pulling on the darker shade of blue for Scotland and by the end of the 2006/07 season he had reached double figures in goals for his country.

In the summer of 2007, McFadden was about to embark on arguably the biggest season of his career. Still having trouble pinning down a place at Everton, he was left on the substitute's bench for Scotland's game against Lithuania but found himself called upon with the score tied at 1-1 and Scotland needing a match winner. Just after his arrival, Stephen McManus scored to put Scotland 2-1 up before McFadden sealed the victory, cutting in from the right hand side to beat his man and unleash a fantastic strike from outside the box. This prompted Scotland manager Alex McLeish to start him in a massive game which followed four days later - away to France.

During Berti Vogts' reign as Scotland manager, they had slipped to a lowly 88th in the world rankings and as a result were given a very tricky qualification group for the European Championships. They were up against France and Italy, who had just contested the World Cup Final, along with World Cup quarter finalists Ukraine, so even finishing in the top three looked a tall order. But Scotland seemed to be defying all odds, having already beaten France at home. Prior to the France game, McLeish announced his desire to use McFadden as a lone striker, not a role he had often played. It turned out to work wonders as early into the second half, McFadden received the ball forty yards out with his back to goal, controlled it and on the turn he shot for goal and his effort found the top corner of France's net, sending the entire nation into raptures. Scotland managed to hold on and Faddy's effort, worthy of winning any game, proved to be the only goal.

Scotland only failed to qualify for the tournament after being beaten 2-1 by world champions Italy in their final game. Although they exceeded expectations, it was very hard to take as Italy scored their winner from what only can be described as a questionable free-kick award. The qualifying campaign was viewed as a success despite just falling short and McFadden's stock rose accordingly too. His goals against Lithuania, France and Ukraine caught the eye of many suitors. In December, Motherwell captain Phil O'Donnell tragically passed away and only days later, McFadden scored what turned out to be his last Everton goal, paying a respectful tribute to O'Donnell in celebration.

After failing to qualify for the European Championships, McLeish took the opportunity to return to club football with Birmingham City and spent £5 million to take McFadden to St. Andrews. He immediately made an impact as he opened his account in his fourth game against West Ham, before scoring a double in a well earned 2-2 draw with Arsenal. His goals couldn't stop Birmingham from the drop and McLeish's men faced the 2008/09 season in the second tier. By this point, his days of playing as a forward seemed to be over, as he was deployed on the left hand side of midfield in the majority of his appearances. His contribution in this role helped Birmingham to promotion straight back to the Premier League.

A last minute penalty saw McFadden open Birmingham's scoring account upon their return to the Premier League to seal a 1-0 victory over Portsmouth. Arguably, Birmingham would have been satisfied with avoiding relegation on their first season back, but exceeded expectations with a top half finish. McFadden managed to chip in with a credible five goals from his left midfield berth. During the 2009/10 season McFadden scored what could sadly be his final international goal, another fantastic solo effort this time against Macedonia, as the all too familiar story of Scotland narrowly missing the play-offs came around again.

You could argue McFadden was in the form of his life. He had proven himself on the biggest stage with Scotland and had pinned down his place in the Birmingham team, who were excelling in the Premier League. Unfortunately, this would come to an abrupt end as September 2011 proved to be a fateful month in his career.

McFadden had a frustrating first half for Scotland against minnows Liechtenstein and was hooked at half time. After the game, manager Craig Levein criticised McFadden for being lazy and not tracking back, a claim which he has recently refuted a whole year after the event. McFadden admitted he had a poor evening against Liechtenstein, but rejected the claims of frustration and laziness as his left midfield role at Birmingham had made him alter his game.

Those who watched McFadden play at Motherwell would back up his defence, as in his early Motherwell career his tenacity was clear to see and at times he had the tendency to try too hard. This tendency often saw McFadden on the receiving end of a yellow card and during a 4-0 defeat to Celtic, McFadden's determination forced manager Terry Butcher to substitute him as he feared a second yellow card was imminent. While I'm not giving an appraisal of his raw indiscipline shown at the time, it certainly refutes the allegations of laziness. Obviously I have not seen just as much of him since his departure, but I have taken a vested interest in his career and there has never been any evidence to suggest he is lazy.

The bad time McFadden seemed to be having in the month continued, when he picked up a knee ligament injury which put him out of the game for over a year, missing Birmingham's League Cup win. To add to missing domestic football, it also denied McFadden the chance to exorcise the ghosts of the Liechtenstein match. In his absence, Birmingham were relegated from the top flight and McFadden's understanding that his contract was going to be extended proved to be wrong also.

So after the best part of a year out injured, McFadden now also found himself without a club. After a summer of deliberation and interest from Wolves and Celtic, he eventually agreed to go back to his old club Everton. But since then his bad luck has continued as two fresh injuries have restricted him to three appearances, only one of which was a start.

To enter the national team's Hall Of Fame, a player needs to accrue 50 caps. When McFadden took to the field that night against Lichtenstein to win his 48th cap, at the age of 27, the thought that it could be his last didn't cross many minds. It would be a great injustice if upon his return to fitness, Scotland's hero and talisman James McFadden never dons the famous dark blue shirt another two times to rightfully gain his place among Scotland's finest.
Joe McKelvie
I am Joe McKelvie, a twenty one year old Motherwell fan. My ramblings on here will mainly be regarding my opinions and experiences whilst following Lanarkshire's Premier Club, although I may touch on the Scottish National Team and other football matters at some point.

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