James McFadden: 'For Scotland boys of 20, 21 this might be their last chance to qualify - you never know'

Roddy Forsyth
Alex McLeish, right, poses with his assistant coaches Peter Grant, James McFadden and Stevie Woods at Hampden at the start of his second spell as Scotland manager - Getty Images Europe

If there is one Scottish footballer who knows the truth of Hemingway’s celebrated dictum that Paris is a moveable feast, it is James McFadden. No Tartan Army fan who was present at a Euro qualifier at the Parc des Princes on Sept 12, 2007 can forget the moment when McFadden – an Everton midfielder at the time – swivelled amid a cluster of French players to unleash a swirling drive from 35 yards past Mickaël Landreau to guarantee Scotland a second group stage victory over the reigning world champions.

To this day, McFadden is rarely more than an encounter away from being reminded of his immortal memory. “Everybody I meet still speaks about the Paris goal – even people I know and I haven’t spoken to for a while talk about it,” he said. On this occasion, the 34-year-old was speaking at Hampden Park in his new role as a member of the Scotland backroom staff assembled by Alex McLeish.

McFadden’s strike in Paris was not his only contribution in 48 Scotland appearances, as he likes to remind admirers. “I scored 15 in total. My first one against the Faroe Islands was probably the most special because I never thought I was going to play for my country, so to firstly play and then score a goal at Hampden – you can’t beat it,” he said.

Like Leigh Griffiths’ pair of sublime free-kicks against England in last year’s World Cup qualifier at Hampden, however, McFadden’s goal did not clear the way to qualification for Euro 2008. In a group which also included Italy, the beaten 2006 World Cup finalists, as well as quarter-finalists, Ukraine, the Scots were undone  by an avoidable 2-0 defeat by Georgia in Tbilisi.

The memory of that setback still rankles with McFadden as an example of misplaced priorities that he intends to impress upon the intake of new players named by McLeish for the friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary.

Leigh Griffiths scores the first of two sensational free-kicks against England last June Credit: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

“We didn’t qualify because of that game in Georgia,” admitted the former Motherwell attacker. “We should have won the game and done better. The big game is the one you have to win, the must-win game.

“If you go to Paris, it’s a freebie. The same if you play France here at Hampden. “If you go to Georgia, you have to win that game to qualify. It is still there with me. When you finish a campaign and you are 22, you think: ‘It’s OK, we have another one’, but you have to take the chance when you get it. It doesn’t matter what age you are. For boys coming in at 20, 21, 22, it might be their last chance to qualify. You never know.”

Indeed, an earlier McFadden goal also seemed to have opened the door to the finals of a major tournament, only for unforgiving reality to impose itself once more. In November 2003, the Scots met Dick Advocaat’s Dutch in the first leg of a Euro play-off in which McFadden played a one-two with Darren Fletcher to net the only goal of the game – and one which triggered an almost hallucinogenic reaction among a Scotland squad who were shredded in the return in Amsterdam.

McFadden still has nightmares about Wesley Sneijder  Credit: Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images

“I think I still need therapy about that,” he said. “To go from being so high to so low in such a short space of time is incredible. We thought we were going to win – not just the play-off but the whole tournament.

“Then they brought in this wee guy – [Welsey] Sneijder – and we thought ‘that’s great’, but he absolutely ran the show.

“I remember looking up at the clock and there was 67 minutes played and it was 6-0. I thought: ‘My God, how are we going to keep this down?’

“That was another occasion where we thought: ‘It’s all right, we’ll get another shot.’ We’re still waiting for it. The important thing now is that we make it happen. We have to get the preparation right but the players have to embrace it and believe.”

McFadden’s playing career – which also included spells at Birmingham and Sunderland – ended in January, after a short contract at Queen of the South, so the invitation to join the Scotland staff is a boon for him. “I don’t know what I would have been doing if Alex had not texted me,” he said. “It’s probably perfect timing. There are not many better jobs going about. I couldn’t be happier and I can’t wait to get started.”