Twenty years ago, two young Glaswegians stepped on a train for England to pursue their football dreams just as James McFadden announced his arrival elsewhere in the city. The playing careers of David Moyes and Pat Nevin took vastly different routes, one stopping at Cambridge, Shrewsbury and Bristol City, the other sticking to major destinations such as Stamford Bridge and Goodison Park. Together, they are helping to provide McFadden with the kind of platform his talent deserves.
When Moyes paid £1.25m on transfer-deadline day to bring the gifted young Scot to Everton from Motherwell, it represented the culmination of a year's worth of persuasion on Nevin's part. Now the pair hope that McFadden can fast-track Scotland towards Euro 2004.
Both men will be at Hampden Park on Saturday to see if the 20-year-old can secure the success against Lithuania that could provide a play-off place. Moyes will be there in his role as Everton manager, Nevin as a radio and television analyst.
McFadden's eye-catching Premiership debut at Goodison last week, setting up two of the goals in the 4-0 rout of Leeds United, has won him an army of new fans on Merseyside, but it was little surprise to Moyes and Nevin.
Nevin had parted company with Motherwell as their director of football when the club went into administration in April 2002, but the former Chelsea and Everton winger did not forget the precocious kid he had left behind at Fir Park.
"David and I go back a long way, to when we were 14," explained Nevin. "I kept him informed about how James was playing for at least a year. I told him he would not regret it, though I did not need to sell James to him, James sold himself. Having played at Everton myself for four years, I knew the Goodison crowd would love him - and already he's made a great impression."
McFadden's ability was not in doubt. Bayer Leverkusen looked at him, as did Celtic and Rangers. It was the temperament of the boy, who still lived on one of Glasgow's rougher council estates until his move to Goodison, that left doubts in some minds. Berti Vogts left him out of the Scotland side for almost a year in punishment for his night on the tiles in Hong Kong in June 2002 that saw him miss the team flight home.
Moyes, though, will instil the same discipline he received in his own teenage years at Celtic, before his move south to the more modest branch-lines of English football. Wayne Rooney will recognise the hallmarks.
"I don't want to push James any more than I want to push Wayne," Moyes said last week. "We want to take the pressure off them, so they can develop in their own time. If they show enough, they will be in the team, and I think that James did that with his performance against Leeds.
"He is one for the future. Hopefully, when he is 24, he will be part of a young Everton side that has Rooney and Tony Hibbert and others challenging for the title. I don't even know his best position yet. He can play left or right, or behind the front two."
While Moyes has been an opponent of national service for the teenaged Rooney, he feels it has helped shape McFadden into a player with confidence beyond his years. "James has a lot of belief in his own ability," said Moyes. "He's got six caps now. Scoring against the Faroe Islands last month when he came off the bench gave him a real lift, then he started against Germany in Dortmund, and I think we got the benefit of that when he came to Everton. The economic situation in Scotland means a lot of clubs outside of Celtic and Rangers are bringing younger players in quicker. They get more opportunities at Motherwell than at big clubs."
Nevin can recognise the parallels with his own career, that brought 28 caps for Scotland. "I got rejected by Celtic at 16 but I was then fixed up by Clyde and got the chance to show what I could do, and at 20 I was signing for Chelsea. Within a few weeks of being at Stamford Bridge, I no longer felt like the same player. You realise there is a greater responsibility.
"The good thing for James is that he moved to Everton without any expectations. Wayne Rooney has taken all the pressure off him. I moved to Chelsea the same month as Charlie Nicholas was bought by Arsenal from Celtic. He had a huge fee and pressure, I sneaked in the back door."
Vogts will hope that McFadden can supply the goals next week that help Scotland sneak in the back door to the European Championship finals, in front of Hampden's first sell-out 52,000 crowd since that other play-off, against England, for Euro 2000.
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