WHAT are the first words that come to mind when you hear the name Paul Slane? Amsterdam is bound to be one. There may be a few others not fit for publication around the theme. Joker? Perhaps. Professional? Not likely. But whatever your preconceptions of the former Motherwell and Celtic winger, they would be quashed by chatting to him for just a few minutes.

“Barely anybody knows me,” Slane says wistfully. That he is an effervescent personality cannot be denied. The public face you may have seen during his recent media appearances is one of a wisecracker, piercing his pals with light-hearted and frequently hilarious barbs and one-liners. The expectations prior to speaking to him are of the crazy stories, the nights on the town.

But behind the façade lies a fragility, and a yearning to put some misconceptions about him to bed once and for all. And none more so than being defined by those infamous four days of debauchery in the Dutch capital.

“If you type anybody’s name into Google, then their worst moments will be on display,” he said.

“You get people saying stuff about me and what happened. I don’t listen to what people say now. If it came to my mum and dad being concerned about it, that’s when I would have to worry about it. But I know who I am.”

The natural question to follow that statement is if he has any regrets – in a football sense, at least – over who he could have been?

After blazing on to the stage at Motherwell as a 17-year-old, Slane earned a move to boyhood heroes Celtic. But the dream transfer turned sour as a series of injuries left him a shadow of the pacey, tricky winger who once looked to have the world at his feet. That led some to question the wisdom of his move to such a big club at that early juncture of his career.

“If I went to Celtic and didn’t get any injuries and played under-19s football for all the time I was there, I would have said ‘you know what, people were right,’, but I was always injured,” he said.

“If I had those injuries at Motherwell I couldn’t play there either. It doesn’t matter if you are Lionel Messi, you can’t play if you’re injured.

“People said to me, ‘Aiden McGeady is there, James Forrest is there, Shaun Maloney is there, you should maybe weigh it up’, but that made me want to go. I wanted to learn off these guys, I wanted to compete with them. I was so excited by that.

“But maybe a month in my knee had went, I did my cruciate. Players can come back stronger from those injuries, but I felt I was just getting injury after injury and couldn’t get any momentum. I was always behind fitness-wise, and it just wasn’t to be.

“I’m really happy for guys like Forrest and Callum McGregor, I’m not bitter that it isn’t me.”

Contrary to popular belief, when Slane’s career was brought to a shuddering halt at the age of just 25, it was not from self-inflicted wounds.

For anyone who saw him play as a youngster, terrorising defenders from the likes of Steaua Bucharest, that his talents were denied the chance to prosper is an affront. It can only be imagined how Slane feels as he considers the great imponderable of how his career could have unfolded. If there isn’t bitterness, as he protests, there have certainly been dark days.

“I try not to look back at it,” he said. “What happened, happened. If I didn’t get the injuries, then who knows? But I did, and you can’t change that.

“In an ideal world I’d still be playing. When I stopped playing I had had five or six operations and it took its toll on me. But everyone has injuries, so I’m not sitting here feeling sorry for myself, that’s all part of the game.

“Growing up, all I wanted to do was play at the highest level I could and make my mum and dad proud. When it doesn’t happen, and you have to come out of the game after that being the only thing you have been aiming for your whole life, of course it is difficult.

“That’s all I ever wanted, not fame or fortune. There's no better feeling than earning a decent wage for playing football and being able to help your parents or your mates out, but for me, it was always to make them proud.”

It was when that opportunity was taken away from him, that Slane stared down his lowest days.

“When I came out of football, that was the hardest thing,” he said. “I couldn’t deal with that, I really struggled.

“After playing well and your parents have come to watch you, you could see it in their faces they were so proud of you. They love you no matter what, but I just missed making them feel so proud of their son. I really did struggle with that side of things.

“But listen, that’s life, and there are worse things go on out there than what has happened to me.”

Perhaps it was knowing that the long void that loomed on the other side of his playing career was on the horizon that sustained Slane while struggling through spells at Ayr United and Clyde.

“I just wasn’t the same player,” he said.

“I was training part-time, but I was taking painkillers to get through it and I was barely sleeping at night.”

He finally admitted defeat in his battle to stay in the game he loves in 2016. As a player at least.

The 27-year-old has been making his first tentative steps into coaching, spending time in Los Angeles working with youngsters from the likes of Argentinian giants Boca Juniors. Now back in Scotland, he is weighing up his options, and would love the opportunity to gain experience with a club here. Rest assured, if that chance comes, he will be taking it seriously.

“I love a laugh and a joke at the right time, but people need to know this; not for one second when I go to work is it a mess about for me,” he said.

“Sometimes, people say to me that they can’t see me as the joker I am portrayed as because I am so professional at my work, and I have always been like that.

“I swear to God, when I played, if I had a Galaxy bar or a can of Coke I would be beating myself up about it for ages afterwards and asking myself why I did that. Everything always had to be right.

“Now I look at somebody like John Kennedy, who was set up for an unbelievable future in the game, and he doesn’t let the fact injury robbed him of that affect him.

“I just have to keep banging away on the door and keep working hard every day, that’s all I can do and then we’ll see what happens.”