Sweat droplets run down Christian Nade’s cheek as he sits down. Not so long ago, they would have strolled.
This is a footballer who didn’t do running, or fitness, or discipline for anyone. All that has changed.
Hearts fans may gasp at Nade’s slimline physique when he returns to Tynecastle this weekend. He is fighting to prove his fitness to the Raith Rovers manager, Grant Murray, after four weeks out with a niggling ankle injury. That means more running than a track athlete and the Frenchman is sweating buckets to ensure he can face his former club.
He has just finished his first run at Raith’s training base in Glenrothes when we sit down to discuss his first visit to Tynecastle in more than four years. It is clear in conversation that the frustrations of his time at Hearts are not forgotten.
The Frenchman was taunted mercilessly for being overweight and not motivated enough during three years in Gorgie. Granted, he has always had a six-pack of some sort, except now it’s the muscular kind and not the drinkable one.
He laughs off “fat Eddie Murphy” chants from fans and the famous “fat student” comment by former manager Csaba Laszlo. A new attitude, new training regime and new lifestyle have worked wonders for Nade during the last 18 months.
Gone are the jowls round his face and the large midriff. He professes to be a Hearts fan and is understandably keen to show his old club his new image. “I wish I was 100 per cent fit for coming back to Tynecastle,” he says. “I can’t wait to be in that stadium again. To be honest, I don’t even know if I’m really fit. I’m maybe 60 or 70 per cent but I really want to play in this game.
“I don’t need to tell the manager. He knows I want to play. The physio is pushing me hard and he’s done a good job, so hopefully I’ll be in the squad this weekend.
“I’m a big Hearts fan. It’s a big thing for me to come back to Tynecastle and play in a different shirt. I can’t wait to see the fans. I meet Hearts fans in Edinburgh and most of the time it’s good.
“Even Hibs fans speak to me and they are good and bad. They talk about my celebration at Easter Road and they give me a hard time about it.”
Nade always did like a goal against Hibs. Four weeks ago, with a chorus of “fat Eddie Murphy” ringing in his ears, he scored Raith’s equaliser in a 1-1 draw at Easter Road and whipped off his shirt to celebrate.
“I knew I would score in that game. I knew it would happen, I just had to be patient,” he smiles. “When I scored I took off my shirt. I wanted to show them more than that but I had to be reasonable. I hoped the camera couldn’t see me because it was behind me, so I did some signs that nobody could see except the Hibs fans.
“I felt like I had to do it. If it gets me a nice welcome from the Hearts fans on Saturday, I won’t complain.”
There is no doubt Nade enjoys proving people wrong. He seems to get a buzz just from talking about it. “I changed everything about myself – the way I’m eating, the way I’m training and the way I’m seeing things. I’ve got a partner who supports me now, I’ve got good friends around me and I’ve got family. I have a good coach and a good staff at Raith.
“Everybody is pushing me harder to make me a better person and a better player. I don’t want to disappoint them. The Raith Rovers fans are pushing me too.”
Hearts supporters will wonder what prompted the change. Nade laments the fact it took so long. He is now 30 and in the best shape of his life but still regrets a wasted opportunity at Tynecastle. Too much money, bad influences and idle time were a lethal combination back then. He doesn’t make excuses.
“I came to Hearts from Sheffield United in the Premiership when I was very young,” he says. “I was a big player but I was young and it was hard. I didn’t cope with the lifestyle. I just wanted to, not party, but I was out a lot. When I wasn’t feeling good after a game I just jumped on the plane and went [home] to Paris. That is not good for a player when you need to rest. I didn’t have the best people around me to help me at that time.”
A basic salary of around £4000 per week became the devil’s plaything. “It’s difficult to talk about money because I’m not the one who gave out the contracts. Maybe it could have been better for Hearts to give us less salary and a better bonus. Then the players, including myself, would work harder to get a bigger bonus.
“I played for Hearts for three years. Different managers came in but I was always the first-choice striker even if I didn’t score many goals. When Csaba Laszlo came, I had been injured for two months so I put on weight. After that, I always had the lowest body fat in the team. Ask Tom Ritchie [Hearts’ former fitness coach].
“Sometimes the criticism was painful but mostly you forget about it. It’s always difficult when you hear people saying bad things about you. If you go out shopping or you are in the street and you hear bad stuff, what you must do is be strong. I maybe wasn’t strong enough at Hearts. I reacted by saying I didn’t care and when I didn’t care I just did whatever I wanted. Unfortunately, Hearts never saw the best of me.”
The best is coming now due to the improved attitude, sparked when Dundee manager John Brown offered Nade a way back into football in January this year. The striker had been injured for months after returning from Thailand and Brown demanded he prove his worth. Letting the former Rangers defender down wasn’t advisable.
“When he tells you to do something, you don’t even think twice. You just do it,” laughs Nade. “He really helped me a lot and it’s a shame I didn’t work with him for longer. I’m 30 years old now. At this age, you know that if you want to play longer then you must look after yourself.”
Despite not doing so whilst at Hearts, Nade remains something of a cult hero for some – largely because he loved scoring in Edinburgh derbies.
“People who know football know I was working hard at Hearts and the role I had wasn’t easy because I was on my own up front. People who don’t know football and just like the atmosphere and stuff, they just say, ‘Nade didn’t score enough and he didn’t do enough’.
“I’m thinking about Raith now. I had a good time at Hearts and I love Hearts but I’ve got nothing to prove. I just want to go and win the game on Saturday.” How will he feel walking out at Tynecastle again?
“When I first came to Britain, the first game I remember with Sheffield United was against Liverpool. I remember coming to the stadium and I heard the people singing. I had goosebumps all over my body. I didn’t know if I was scared or happy or what. I think that’s what I’m going to feel when I’m in the tunnel on Saturday.”