GARY Madine rather summed up his own quandary in a remarkably prophetic interview with The Bolton News last week.

“I am not this big bad lad lout that people perceive me as,” he said, fresh from a goal against Norwich City. “That’s just away from football when I’ve had a beer in us!”

The Gary Madine I have come to know in his two years at Wanderers is indeed far removed from the brutish hooligan the tabloid headlines have often portrayed.

He is an engaging interviewee, for starters. Softly-spoken, more eloquent and wittier than you’d expect from a footballer whose chief purpose on the pitch is usually to bruise and batter opposition defences.

He has had his critics at Bolton, particularly in a difficult first season, yet won many of them over in his second. Speaking to him on the pitch after promotion was sealed against Peterborough in May was one of the most rewarding chats I’ve had covering the club. Madine seemed genuinely touched at the supporters’ change of heart, and spoke with passion about playing for Wanderers into the future and rewarding their patience.

This season, the striker has been given praise by his manager, Phil Parkinson, for improving his attitude in training. Proof could be seen every Saturday – he has been quicker and sharper since the club’s return to the Championship.

By his own admission, however, Madine has a darker side.

When Neil Lennon signed the target man on a free transfer in 2015 I made a mental note to deal with his past criminal convictions just once, and then try to keep the focus on the football he played at Bolton. Madine had served five months of an 18-month jail sentence for causing actual and grievous bodily harm in two separate attacks in October 2013, whilst playing for Sheffield Wednesday. He had also been sentenced to community service three years earlier for a similar offence, during a spell at Carlisle United.

I broached the subject in a pre-season interview in Austria. Madine showed clear contrition and said he wanted to move on with his career. He had paid for his misdemeanours and deserved that opportunity.

His first year at Bolton did not go smoothly, flecked with injuries and minor disagreements. Madine was by no means the only player to suffer in Lennon’s pressure cooker dressing room atmosphere. And it was not until the calm, disciplined Parkinson took the managerial chair that we really saw what he had to offer.

Over the last 17 months he has been the fulcrum of Wanderers’ attack, scoring 10 goals last season, and four in the current campaign. He is more important to the team now than he ever has been.

That responsibility is why Madine needs to heed his own words.

It appears no further legal action has been taken after his arrest on Friday night following an altercation with a man in his home town of Birtley, in Gateshead, and it is hard to assess on the information available what case he had to answer. Police have thus far failed to confirm the matter is closed. What is known is that alcohol was involved.

At 27 he is in his prime footballing years. The last thing he or Wanderers would want at this stage is to lose any more of that precious time by failing to deal with something so avoidable.

Footballers need to unwind and have social lives just like anyone else. And Parkinson has allowed his players plenty of leeway during international breaks for rest and relaxation.

One of the trappings of such a well-paid and highly-publicised profession is that footballers can be an easy target for trouble. That makes heading out into social settings like bars, pubs and clubs all the more risky.

Madine’s laddish image has been embraced by a good portion of Wanderers’ fan-base – and there will be plenty who think he should be left alone and allowed to live his life, as no charges have been brought.

But the club is unlikely to ignore the warning signs. Madine will have some making up to do if he takes the pitch against Preston North End on Friday. After that, it’s up to him.

He is a cult-hero for many fans, playing the best football of his career at one of the most famous old clubs in the game. Madine can still change public perception, he just has to use his head.