His move from Paris Saint Germain to Greenock Morton in the summer of 2010 may be regarded as one of the best pieces of business completed by the club in many years. Since then, Fouad Bachirou has earned a special place in the hearts of every Greenock Morton supporter. Through his kindness, hard work, and sheer determination to succeed, fans favourite ‘Fred’ has earned not only the respect of most Inverclyde residents, but the respect of many supporters throughout Scotland.
When news filtered through that manager Allan Moore had managed to secure the services of a French midfielder, like any foreign signing, a level of excitement grew as to what skills and qualities the new player might possess: “My move to Morton came through my agent.” said Fouad, when asked about the deal. “I wanted to go abroad and I was in discussion with some clubs from different countries. My agent happened to know some people over here and arranged for me to come over for pre season to get my fitness up for my trial. After a few weeks, the gaffer, Allan Moore, wanted me to sign so I had a decision to make. I didn’t want to wait so I signed here and I’m happy that I did.”
With any foreign signing, there is always an element of risk involved. Will the player adapt to the Scottish game? How will they find the pace of the game here, as opposed to where they learned their trade? Fouad did notice the difference straight away; “I remember my Morton debut,” explained Bachirou. “The game was away from home and we won on penalties [against Dumbarton]. All I can remember is that I came on with ten minutes to go and found it hard. I never got much of the ball because there were plenty of high balls from the back.
“The biggest difference though, was the intensity of the game. At first, I felt that ball was never on the ground. No disrespected to the Scottish game and players, but in France, we are more patient and talented with the ball. Over here, it is more direct and that doesn’t suit my position; it’s a totally different game. Since then, I’ve learned to make some runs inside the box; something I had never been asked to do before.”
It was clear to see from what Fouad was saying, life on the pitch was proving to be difficult. However, the biggest challenge he would face would be leaving his beloved family in France. With his parents hailing from the Comoros Islands, Fouad was raised and educated in the small town of Valence, Southern France. And when I asked him about leaving his loved ones, he did admit it was one of the toughest challenges he’d ever had to face:
“Leaving my family and friends was really hard, but I wanted a new challenge and that meant I had to leave home. Once I was here though, I did have a lot of help to make sure I was settled. Peter Weatherson and Allan Jenkins were two of the lads who helped me the most. I wouldn’t say they made me feel at home, but they definitely made things a lot easier for me and, to this day, I thank them for that.”
Growing up in France, Fouad’s talents were noticed from a young age and after playing for Football Club de la Place de Clichy for a number of years, French and European giant, PSG came calling. Being an avid Paris Saint Germain and Real Madrid supporter, this was a dream move for ‘Fred’:
“PSG is a huge club and I learned so much there; it’s made me the player I am today. Tactically, I’ve learned so much, and learned how to deal with the pressure footballers find themselves under, because at a big club like that, the pressure and competition was there every day. Playing for PSG helped me on and off the pitch and prepared me for life.”
Within a short space of time, Fouad had to not only adapt to a different style of football, but also adapt to a different lifestyle all together. With that in mind, you could forgive him for having a slow start to his Morton career:
“Football can be tough. I had seen so many good players without a club, so I knew I had to work hard and prove myself here.” And prove himself he did. Within a matter of weeks, the young Frenchmen had firmly cemented his place in the starting II and was a huge part in the rebuilding process at Cappielow, under new manager, Allan Moore.
And when I mentioned the Morton gaffer – who has begun his fourth campaign with the club – Bachirou had nothing but praise for the forty-eight year old:
“Allan Moore has been brilliant with me. He has helped my game so much since I’ve came here. Ultimately, he was the one who gave me the chance to play in Scotland, and I thank him for that. His confidence in me has been vital and he has made everything easy at the club.”
Bachirou’s performances were going from strength to strength. By consistently delivering excellent performances week-in, week-out, it was inevitable that bigger clubs would eventually announce their interest in the player. As he reached the end of his second full season with the club, Fouad announced to the supporters that he was still struggling to cope with living away from home and, as a result, would end his stay with the Greenock side.
With fears that they could be set to lose their most influential player, Morton supporters made it their mission to retain the midfield maestro for, at least, one more season. After long discussions on social media sites and internet forums, an idea was hatched that could very well make Fred change his mind. The supporters had organised a ‘French Day’, which would involve all supporters turning up to Cappielow on the final day of the season with their French flags, in the hope that Fouad would feel at home.
Furthermore, the club and fans worked together to fund for Fouad’s family to fly over and see him play in the blue and white hoops for the first time. It was a day that he remembers well:
“I had only been here for two years and what the fans did that day was amazing. They even flew my own mother in as well for the game. Seeing her at the end of the game and seeing her being so proud of me was probably the best thing I could have asked for. The fans have been amazing since I’ve came here so I always try to give them something back with my performances.”
Despite the fans best efforts though, Bachirou was still set on finding himself a new challenge:
“I wanted a new challenge and was linked with some big clubs; however, the deals never went through for all sorts of reasons. I then had the chance to sign for Hamilton, but only a few days later, Morton came back in and asked me to re-sign. I had a choice to make, but I was delighted to come back.”
With the 2012/13 season getting off to a slow start, the news that fans favourite Fred had re-joined was just what everyone at the club needed. The squad was set, and Fred was back where he belonged. Morton would go on to finish as runners-up that season, after narrowly missing out on promotion to nearest rivals, Partick Thistle. Despite the disappointed felt after falling so close to the finish line, Fred believes it will only make the team stronger this time round:
“Last season was a great season for the First Division.” he explained. “To have two teams that close, right up till the end of the season just shows that Scottish Football is not all about the SPL. The club itself learned a lot last season, though, and I think we are now capable of staying top this season. The title chase also helped a lot of the players to mature a little, like myself, Tidser and Taggart, which can only be a good thing for the club.”
With plenty of ins and out within the squad again this summer, Fouad still remains within Allan Moore’s plans, alongside new signings Dougie Imrie, Kabba-Modou Cham, Reece Hands and Joe McKee. And Fred was first to complement the new summer recruits:
“We’ve made quite a few signings this summer. Dougie [Imrie] knows the game well. He’s been in the First Division for quite some time and is a good player. He will be key if we use him on the right hand side. [Kabba-Modou] Cham is a good player who just needs to adapt to the Scottish game a bit more. He’s still young though and will learn.
“[Reece] Hands has been brilliant already. He’s good on the ball as is [Joe] McKee; they’re both young, clever players with good vision.”
Fred went on to talk about the rest of the squad, and admits he’s impressed with the quality the team possess. However, just by listening to him, I got the sense that he firmly believes this could be Morton’s season:
“This season, with the new teams, the expectations for us is to finish top 3 and obviously to challenge for the title, but we just have to take it one game at a time. I believe we’re strong enough to achieve that, however, we don’t have the largest squad but we’ve got fifteen strong players available. We just need a little bit of time to gel together on the pitch.”
With only one year left remaining on his current contract, this could very well be final season we see Fouad Bachirou play for the blue and white hoops. However, before he bows out of Cappielow for the final time, he’s expressed his desire to do one more thing for the Greenock Morton supporters, who have been so loyal to him throughout his time here: win them the SPFL Championship.