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WILL THE real Russell Latapy please stand up. The fact is that, when it comes to the Trinidad playmaker, there are perceptions and there is the reality – and thanks to a colourful existence the line between the two is blurred.

There are the indelible images of him and Dwight Yorke partying with a host of attractive females when they should have been tucked up at home in bed and the subsequent drink/drive charges, there is the self-confessed fondness for fine wine and the liking for cigarettes. There are also the reports of him going AWOL, returning late from international duty. On top of that are fines and, of course, his high-profile omission from Hibs' 2001 Scottish Cup final team – a punishment which he is still not convinced fitted the crime.

But the flip side is the mercurial talent, the ability to seduce football fans with greater ease than he does the opposite sex. There is the healthy eating and the willingness to train. He is still an important member of the Falkirk side and has once again been recalled by Trinidad and Tobago, despite the fact he is now a 40-year-old.

"I think that proves I was not as bad as people thought. If I was as bad as some people believe I wouldn't be here. In fact I would probably be dead!

"I have always liked the way that I chose to live and in some weird way it has kind of justified itself because I am still playing. I'm not saying it's the right way but I think I have always had a balance. I enjoy life but I have always worked hard. I wouldn't still be playing if I didn't."

It is now 10 years since Latapy arrived in Scottish football and since then he has secured more than his fair share of headlines. For better and worse.

Growing up in Trinidad, the idea of playing in British football took shape in front of the television. Road To Wembley was the closest the country had to professional football, the live matches the starlets' only real taster of the life they wanted to be part of. "When I left Porto I went to a couple of teams down south, to Ipswich and then Villa for a bit, but then I was invited up to Scotland and I just loved it from the first minute," said Latapy.

The idea was to see out his career in the Scottish top flight. "That's basically what has happened but I could not have foreseen that the end of my career would be 10 years down the line!"

Few could. Given his party lifestyle, there was often amazement that he could still perform his trickery aged 30, let alone maintain it for another decade.

"I have enjoyed my life and what happens when you do that is that people don't tend to see you working hard on the pitch or in training, that is not really highlighted. What is highlighted is when you are out and people tend to remember that stuff. It wasn't always a rum and coke in my hand, sometimes it was just coke!"

There was alcohol consumed that fateful night in 2001 when he failed a breath test after a night out with his international colleague and friend Yorke. Less than 48 hours before a match, he incurred the wrath of then Hibs manager Alex McLeish. If he has a regret, that is it.

It ultimately resulted in him being dropped and when he was omitted from the cup final line-up, it completed a messy separation from the Easter Road club. Failure to agree new contract terms meant the fans' favourite had been in and out the team.

"The is a misconception that I was out 48 hours before the cup final. I wasn't. Let's clear that up once and for all. The cup final was two weeks away. It's one of these situations that I have not really talked a lot about except for apologising at the time to the club and the fans. The more you speak about it the more it highlights it and it was just one of these situations that happens and you deal with it and the best way to deal with it is just to take it on the chin, especially when you are in the wrong, and try to move on as quickly as possible."

Others have been unable or unwilling to do that. "Part of life and part of maturing is that you look back at decisions that you made and if you had the chance to go back then you would definitely do things different. Unfortunately, at the time you think the decisions are not important and things have still worked out in a certain way but I have said it before and I will say it again that one of the things that I would have done differently is the situation that led to me leaving Hibs. It's in the past and we have both moved on, the club and myself, but it should have been different. It's not the fact I didn't play in the cup final, it's more that because of decisions I made I disappointed a lot of people at a club I still feel a lot for."

It was a relationship which has endured, though, with absence and time making the hearts of the Hibs fans grow even fonder. Considered a legend, Latapy's misdemeanours, although unlikely ever to be forgotten, have been forgiven by most.

Even his manager at the time, McLeish, despite having to punish him on more than one occasion, couldn't hold a grudge. "People don't see what happens behind the scenes," said Latapy. "We actually got to the stage where we would laugh about it at times. He would say, 'go out and get me a double on Saturday and we are quits' and there were times when I would get the two goals and we would just laugh. I never wanted to let the fans or my manager or team-mates down but I never wanted to be a robot. I worked hard and wanted to enjoy the rewards."

He tells the youngsters he coaches and plays alongside these days to do the same. But to get the balance right. He says he could never preach to a youngster to stay indoors every night and live like a monk. "People who say work hard now and enjoy the benefits later in life don't get it. By then you are looking after your kids! And if you go to a nightclub when you are 40, you don't want to be messing about with girls half your age. People who play football have to make a lot of sacrifices, whether it's leaving the family, friends or education behind and they do that to be successful but they also have the right to enjoy the rewards. Provided they get the right balance and accept that the decisions they make have consequences."

As well as the goals in the infamous 6-2 defeat of Hearts, his Hibs career also included another run-in with authority when he reported back to Edinburgh a couple of days later than expected after international duty. It resulted in yet another fine. But Latapy has no argument.

"Some things weren't my fault. Some things were. On that occasion, I made a conscious decision. I felt I needed an extra day so I decided to stay on and deal with the consequences. I had to pay the price – probably two weeks' wages – but I took it on the chin. I can't say that was unfair."

What is unfair is the way his errors of judgment have dogged him. He says he prefers not to think about what contracts were lost because of the public profile and perceived baggage, all he can deal with is the things he does know.

He knows he has enjoyed his career, he has played on a European stage, in Champions League and UEFA Cup competition, he has featured in a World Cup and is now honing a career in coaching as well as playing well enough to be included in the Trinidad team for its forthcoming matches. He has travelled from Easter Road to Ibrox and he admits Ian McCall was correct not to offer him a longer deal at Dundee United but he is now settled at Falkirk and enjoying the football and coaching.

If he had not come to Scotland, he says he would have retired years ago and be relaxing on a beach, running a restaurant. It is a surprise he could afford to, given the amount he has paid out in fines over the years. He bursts out laughing. "Yeah, I have lost a fair bit of money that way over the years. Definitely. But there is a saying in Trinidad: you cannot be a sailor and be afraid of water. At most clubs, once you sign the deal, they give you a rule book and then you know what is expected and what isn't expected. The decisions are still yours but you know the consequences." But surely he has never read a rule book in his life? More laughter. "Yeah, well, not really. I kind of flick through them!"

This is the man in charge of helping keep Falkirk's youngsters on the straight and narrow and ironically there could be few better placed. Latapy has been there, done it all and has willingly taken the consequences. Anyone trying it on with him should be aware they will have to do likewise because there is no kidding a kidder.