In praise of the dead snake

Posted by Phil Mison

Luis Boa Morte: Ten of the best in a Fulham shirtPA PhotosLuis Boa Morte: Ten of the best in a Fulham shirt

How delightful to be able to recently reacquaint ourselves with Luis Boa Morte through the club's in house TV channel. Looking no doubt to raise his profile with a reintroduction to football in the UK, at the ripe old age of 35, Luis decided to make himself available to the media boys at Motspur for a spin through the archives of his 'Top ten goals in the Fulham shirt.'

And no bad thing either in my book to lighten up your day during the brief international hiatus (doctor more pills, I really am losing my enthusiasm for England games by the month).

There were more than a few misconceptions surrounding our former captain and Portuguese international. His name for a start had nothing reptilian about it at all. The family, it was a large one, hailed from the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of West Africa, and were economic migrants to the mainland of Portugal. The family name loosely translates as 'good death,' which is a metaphysical concept I leave you to ponder on at your leisure.

Commonly held to be a feisty character, in interview Luis came over as hesitant, softly spoken, almost shy to be confronted with video evidence of his tremendous talent on the pitch. Reading between the lines of his early career you might also have deduced here was a prickly customer who didn't know when to keep his mouth shut, especially with managers. The precociousness of youth - we've all been there at some point. Signed to Sporting Lisbon as a teenager Luis never made the first team, a massive frustration with the club he grew up following, while his mother worked kitchens and long hours to give her son a head start.

Spotted by that most dedicated of talent scouts Arsene Wenger at the famous Toulon youth tournament of '97, Luis was recruited to the Highbury ranks, at a time when Arsenal paraded a virtual embarrassment of riches. Pires, Viera, Wiltord, Petit, Wright, Ljungberg, Bergkamp, Henry. Try finding your way past that lot into the first team. Though Luis got on as sub from time to time, this was a title winning side after all! Arsene sensed there was something to Boa's game, but where could he fit in? So Luis moved on to Southampton. Dave Jones signed him and greener pastures and first team opportunities would surely follow. Wouldn't they? No. Jones sacking saw Glen Hoddle back in league management.

While Southampton at the time held their own in the Premiership, the new man in charge at the Dell, was no fan of Boa Morte. Chastened by England's failure at the '98 World Cup, looking to rehabilitate his reputation, and yet to receive the full force of opprobrium coming his way - that poor performance on the field was the fault always of players, or some 'higher being' - but never the tarnished god that was Glenn the manager.

For a third time any chance for Luis to climb from the gutters of Lisbon and return the family faith and sacrifice by making it in professional football at the top seemed to be slipping away. Until Jean came calling. Tigana and Wenger were almost bedfellows when it came to nurturing talent in the 1990's. Both managed at Monaco, they were neighbours, both had high regard for the graduates emerging from the French academy at Fontainbleau. Tigana didn't much like what he saw of the division two Fulham side ending the season 9th in May 2000 and hesitated over the job offer. For the following August, Louis Saha had been snapped up to replace top scorer Horsfield. Fulham fans were about to see a transformed Barry Hayles, and the third element in attack, after a phone call to Arsene, was securing Luis from Southampton on loan. Fulham soared into the Premiership with perhaps their most scintillating forward trio ever, an irresistible triumvirate who contributed 70 goals to a season where Fulham carried all before them.

There was to be no turning back for Boa Morte, and in a strange way I may have played a role. The loan arrangement with Hoddle remained in place all season, but Saints it seemed didn't want him back. Strange to recall, but we started our promotion season slowly in game one before momentum took hold and the new boys integrated and learnt to play the Tigana way. I vividly recall Boa scuffing a big first-half chance against a dogged Crewe side before Saha broke the deadlock late on and the Whites claimed a 2-0 win. Little did we know what was to come. I was one of 11,157 that day who witnessed Boa's Fulham debut.

Our first real tester came with an away trip to Bolton, they were unbeaten and tipped for the title. We travelled north to learn Saha was absent with a virus. The team however scored inside a minute, weathered everything Bolton could throw at them, then clinched a famous win late on with a quick break out from defence. Man on the scoresheet for both goals? You guessed it. I lingered by the team bus to grab a few words with the hero of the hour. My first (of many) conversations with the 'Snake.'

Downbeat, and almost mumbling into my mike, Luis praised the club, the manager, the set up, and said how happy he was at Fulham - and to be playing first team football. Almost as an aside, he said 'Mr Hoddle doesn't understand me... for me he is not a good manager, I don't want to play there.' By the time I got home I'd forgotten his comments. Not so come Monday morning! There they were reprinted in bold headlines across the back of 'The Sun.'

I had to smile at my own naivety. Not being from the tabloid school of no scruples but plenty of chutzpah the guy at my elbow had taped my interview and given it a sensationalist slant for the Murdoch dogs of war! Good luck to him wherever he is. Anyway, the 'Hoddle's a lousy manager,' line sealed Boa's fate as far as a return to the Saints was concerned. And their loss was to be our gain. Luis went on to show what he could do for the promoted side, he was more than up to repeating at the highest level

Luis Boa Morte we salute you, and if there's any gas left in those legs, may you keep going for a while longer. Meanwhile, let's go back and have another look at those goals...


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