From Paris to Palmerston: the rise and fall of James McFadden

 

JAMES McFadden was a modern day icon amongst the Tartan Army during the 2000’s.

After bursting onto the scene as a teenager straight into the International setup under Berti Vogts, McFadden had a talent that no other Scottish player showed at that time. He had a swagger, a wand of a left foot, the ability to beat players with a neat bit of skill and the technique to score some great goals.

His career took him to the land of milk and honey with a move to the English Premier League to Everton, where he showed enough glimpses of his talent to win the respect of the Goodison supporters.

Meanwhile, his performances in the dark blue continued to soar as Faddy conjured up important and iconic moments for the National team. None more so than his audacious 40 yard effort against France at the Parc des Princes, which gave the Scots a famous victory, an image that is proudly displayed at the main entrance at Hampden Park.

Almost a decade to the day since that memorable night in Paris, James McFadden signed a short term deal with Queen of the South.

It is difficult to imagine back then Faddy would be plying his trade in Scotland’s second tier, but a combination of injuries, fitness and, at times, poor career choices have led to him being picked up by the men from Dumfries.

It’s a sad indictment for the man once dubbed the talisman of the National side to go from playing in the English top flight to not be considered good enough for one of the top twelve sides north of the border. That’s no disrespect for a Queen’s side with ambitions of promotion to the Premiership themselves, something they’ve flirted with previously in seasons 2013/14 and 2014/15 when they reached the playoff Quarter Final, and will be hoping McFadden can help them achieve their ambitions.

After Paris, McFadden left Everton to join Alex McLeish, his International manager when he produced Scotland’s greatest moment since their last major finals appearance at the 1998 World Cup (ironically in France), at Birmingham City a few months later as he craved regular first team football. He endured an indifferent spell at the Blues, suffering relegation in his first season then winning promotion the following season and helping them finish in the top half of the table in their return campaign in the top flight.

His Scotland career was still going relatively strongly too. He netted in the 3-1 win over Ukraine at Hampden but then missed a guilt edged chance in the crucial match with Italy, which would’ve likely given Scotland victory and qualification before they suffered a cruel late defeat to the World Champions. Although the reign under George Burley was a complete disaster, there were still glimpses of the old Faddy magic, typified by a brilliant solo effort against Macedonia, the high point of a dismal reign under the ex-Ipswich manager who lost his job after less than two years.

Unfortunately for McFadden, he played his last game for Scotland aged 27 against Liechtenstein at Hampden, where he was subbed at half time by Craig Levein following an ineffective display. It was his 48th cap for his country, falling two short of the hall of fame though he may well be inducted by supporters over the coming years. Still, it was a pity that an international career over an eight year period that boasted some iconic moments, such as the winner against Holland at Hampden, spectacular goals against Slovenia and Lithuania and, of course, THAT moment in Paris, that his career in the dark blue jersey should end in such humiliating fashion at being, effectively, made a scapegoat by his manager for a terrible first half showing (the overall abject display is clouded by a 97th minute winner against a nation who’s population takes up little more than three quarters of the Hampden capacity).

McFadden should’ve got the opportunity to prove a point to one of Scotland’s worst ever managers. However, he sustained a serious knee injury at Birmingham a few weeks later that ruled him out for the rest of the season, that kept him out during his clubs famous League Cup win and failed battle against relegation that same campaign. The Blues drop from the top flight led to several cut backs and one of those included Faddy’s contract not being renewed, and so truly began his decline.

He was offered a chance to join boyhood heroes Celtic by then manager Neil Lennon, where there were genuine opportunities for him to stake a claim for first team football at the time, but he chose to rejoin Everton. As expected, he found game time, something that was badly needed at that stage of his rehabilitation process, very limited and he was released at the end of the 2011/12 season after just seven appearances at the club.

McFadden stated publicly that he’d be interested in a dream move to Parkhead in the summer of 2012, but Lennon’s interest had long cooled and he ended up signing a three month deal at Sunderland. Again, he found first team opportunities limited and left after just three appearances with the Black Cats before ending back at Motherwell.

Things were going well, no pun intended, as he played his part in helping them finish a comfortable second place in the table and he earned another year at Fir Park. Although Well finished second again, McFadden became more of a squad player than a first team regular and was released by the club at the end of the season. He spent most of the following season at St Johnstone, scoring just one goal for the Perth side, then having another six months without a club before signing on for a third term at Motherwell.

During the last 18 months, he’s again found games hard to come by and spent almost a year as Assistant Manager, most of that under Mark McGhee before his sacking in February this year, before he left the club in pursuit to revive his playing career.

The fact that James McFadden has played just 49 games since September 2010, when he suffered his career threatening injury, speaks volumes about how that knee injury and subsequent lack of fitness have affected his career. This was a guy who seemed destined to threaten Kenny Dalglish’s and Denis Law’s long-standing goal scoring record for Scotland, and with 15 goals prior to that injury he may well have done. Unfortunately, he’s spent the past two months or trying to earn a deal at Queen of the South.

It shows enormous faith by Gary Naysmith, Queens manager and former teammate of Faddy at Everton and Scotland, that McFadden still has the ability to perform at Championship level as the Doonhamers seek for a first spell in Scotland’s top flight since 1964. That in itself is going to be tough for Queens to achieve given the level of competition for automatic promotion and three playoff positions from Dundee United, St Mirren, Falkirk and Inverness amongst others but they have started the season strongly with Stephen Dobbie in good goalscoring form. The hope is that McFadden will form a prolific partnership with Dobbie and that their experience in England will play into Queens hands in their bid for a top four position at least.

For James McFadden, he has one last opportunity to save what’s left of his career at Queen of the South at the age of 34, and most observers will be hoping it works out for him at Palmerston. Whilst his best days are behind him, there is still hope that he can conjure up the old Faddy magic and earn a longer deal to aid Queens in their promotion bid, and give him one last hurrah in the process.

He made his Queens debut in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Livingston at the Tony Macaroni Stadium, coming on with his side 1-0 down. Though he didn’t have any direct involvement with any of the goals, Naysmith was happy to see him get 30 minutes under his belt and is confident that, with more match sharpness, some of the old Faddy swagger will return to boost his sides ambitions.

It’s hard to imagine that McFadden would end up in the Scottish Championship following his early promise and the impact he made on the National side, and it just shows what can happen when a combination of injury, fitness and, arguably, poor career choices can affect a players confidence as they slowly drift out of the limelight. At 34, it can be argued that he should be performing at a higher level and threatening to overtake the long standing goalscoring record held jointly by two of the greatest Scottish players of all time.

Whilst his career may have faltered this past decade, James McFadden will always remain a cult hero amongst the Tartan Army for his memorable moments in a Scotland jersey, especially that 40 yard wonder strike in Paris ten years ago!

YouTube montage of McFadden’s greatest moments in a Scotland shirt, courtesy of Scotland National Team channel

J Bleasdale

I am a football fan with a passion for writing, briefly studied journalism before other priorities got in the way. Enjoy blogging as its my way of expressing my thoughts on Scottish Football. Even though I'm an Aberdeen fan primarily, I'm happy to express my impartial views on other clubs.