BORN in Benavente and raised in Finchley, Filipe Morais is a genuine Portugeezer.
But despite starting his career training with the likes of Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba at Chelsea, it was a three-year spell in Scotland which, this cosmopolitan midfielder told The Star, made him the player he is today.
“You enter a goldfish bowl up there,” Morais, who represented Hibernian, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and St Johnstone before returning to England, said.
“Everyone knows what you do because it’s always all over the newspapers so you have to grow up fast and mature.
“I’m a very different person now because of my experiences up there. Hopefully I’m a better person and a better professional too.
“When I went to Hibs I probably wasn’t grown up enough to appreciate the size of that club and what a big deal it is, especially in Edinburgh. That was down to me.
“The Scottish people, I’ve got to say, are absolutely fantastic. So friendly it’s untrue.
“Like anywhere on earth, there are good and bad things about the competition.
“But, looking back, it was a really important and valuable part of my life.”
Morais, the most recognisable face of the new-look Stevenage side which visits Bramall Lane tomorrow, encountered an array of different managers and styles north of the border.
Lured to Easter Road by the cultured John Collins, a transfer to the Highlands placed him under the tutelage of confrontational Englishman Terry Butcher.
Morais’ message about the benefits of SPL and SFL competition goes some way towards explaining Danny Wilson’s determination to exploit the Caledonian market.
Ryan Flynn rose to prominence at Falkirk, Neill Collins is a product of Queens Park and Kevin McDonald progressed through the ranks with Dundee.
Nick Blackman, searching for his 10th goal of the season, arrived from Blackburn Rovers three months ago but first captured the United manager’s attention during loans spells at Motherwell and Aberdeen.
“John Collins at Hibs was like a father figure to me,” Morais revealed. “He really was.
“Obviously he was a great player in his own right and he spent so much time with me, passing on advice.
“When he went I felt like I’d been left in limbo a bit and the chance came up to go to Inverness. I had a great time there too.
“Terry was a completely different character.
“Listen to one of his team talks and you were ready to run through a brick wall for him.
“He was that type of guy.”
“We were really unlucky to get relegated that year,” Morais added. “And I’d have been more than happy to stay but Derek McInnes, who I knew from my time at Millwall, was in charge of St Johnstone and so it was hard to say no.
“One of the most important things I learned up there was that you’re not a superstar. There are some really good players and lots of good talent.
“At Chelsea, everyone wants a piece of you and wants to know you. But in Scotland you’re just part of the scene.”
Having spent two seasons with Oldham Athletic, Morais put pen to paper on a contract with Stevenage in July.
Gary Smith, Wilson’s opposite number in Hertfordshire, began overhauling his squad after being beaten by United in the play-off semi-finals last term.
Third in the League One table - a place behind United by virtue of an inferior goal difference - Stevenage might not be the division’s most glamorous name. But they are a force to be reckoned with once again.
“We know there’s lots of work to do yet,” Morais said. “But we’ve really bought into what the manager wants us to do, which is keep a hard-working streak but play good football.”
Teams and ref
UNITED (possible): Long, Hill, Collins, Maguire, Williams, Flynn, Doyle, McDonald, Miller, Blackman, Porter (4-4-2)
STEVENAGE (possible): Arnold, Roberts, Charles, Gray, N’Gala, Grant, Morais, Tansey, Akins, Dunner, Haber (4-4-2).
Michael Jones: Appointed to the Select Group in 2008, this will be the Cheshire official’s first league appointment outside of the top flight or Championship since December. Issued nine red cards last term, including one during that match between Northampton and Swindon, but has not sent off a player since March. Found himself at the centre of ‘Beach Ball Gate’ when Sunderland’s Darren Bent scored a bizarre goal against Liverpool three years ago.