CHIEF football writer Marc Iles looks back on the Wanderers career of Fil Morais, who announced his retirement from footbal this weekend.

“YES, but can anyone tell me whether four assists actually IS a record?”

The steep hill on the way to Gillingham train station on a Wednesday morning was not nearly as sapping as a discussion with he EFL’s communication department as I tried to put what I had just seen into context.

Phil Parkinson’s Bolton side was not always easy to watch. In those dying Championship throes the toxic boardroom issues made survival a target to be reached at any cost, tainting the manager’s achievements in that first season of Sweet Caroline, Goal Machines and pitch invasions, of goal-scoring centre-halves, last-minute winners and celebrations on the Town Hall steps.

But before all the belt-and-braces stuff there was a spell where the Wanderers engine was purring gloriously.

It was a time before finances became front page news. Josh Vela looked a born number 10, Gary Madine was in his groove, Adam Le Fondre goalscoring oozed class, and every time Bolton Wanderers got a corner – either David Wheater or Mark Beevers got on the end of it.

The man who seemed to get a mention before each and every goal was Filipe Morais, or “The Postman” as most Wanderers fans had come to know him.

That balmy March evening at Priestfield I had seen a player do something I was confident nobody had done before in a Bolton shirt, at least in recent memory.

Wanderers outclassed Gillingham with their most comprehensive win of the season, four goals to nothing and every single one of them created by Morais.

Wheater, Le Fondre, Beevers and Vela would go into the scorebook but the Portugal-born winger would be the real hero of the night with a performance as close to unplayable as I have ever witnessed from the press box.

I pestered the Football League’s statisticians to see when the last time was that anyone had ever created four goals in the same game, but, alas, they were unable to give me an answer.

We knew for certain he had been the first person in the top four leagues to register four assists in that season, and by the end of the month he had an incredible 11 assists and two goals from six games.

To put it into some context, there are only six players who have registered four assists in the same game at Premier League level since 1992 – Paul Pogba, Juan Antonio Reyes, Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor, Santi Cazorla and Harry Kane. So in the very least sense, Morais is in good company.

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At that point in time, however, everything he touches seemed to turn to goals.

In my time covering Bolton Wanderers I cannot remember such a purple patch. Nor indeed can I remember a player confounding expectations in quite the same manner as Morais did back then.

When Parkinson brought him in a couple of days after the January transfer window in 2017, there was a collective shrug from the Bolton fanbase, still smarting from the loss of Zach Clough to Nottingham Forest.

Le Fondre had been brought back to Bolton on loan from Cardiff, numbing the pain a little, but the arrival of a 30-plus winger who had not been featuring regularly for Bradford City did not get pulses raising the same way at first, it is fair to say.

Morais had a good pedigree. His early days at under the great Jose Mourinho at Chelsea were well-documented and his success under Parkinson at Valley Parade also hinted at a good working relationship.

But his arrival was greeted with rather muted applause by the Wanderers fans, who were already sniffing a rat under Ken Anderson’s ownership and sensing there could be troubled times ahead.

They would soon learn to love ‘The Postman’ as he developed a sound rapport with the likes of Le Fondre, Madine and Vela, which inevitably led to goals.

Morais had looked a rather spent force in his latter days at Bradford, struggling to overcome a serious knee injury and then dropping out of contention completely under Stuart McCall.

But Parkinson remained a hugely influential in his career and at the age of 31 he felt the form Bolton fans were seeing was entirely down to the manager’s sound advice.

“I have had a mediocre career because of how I was as a younger player,” he told us in March 2017. “It was only when I got to Bradford that Phil Parkinson changed my way of thinking.

“His quote was always ‘when you get older you need to live like a monk’ because he wanted to get the best out of me.

“Managers have always said I was technically-gifted, or a good player, but I couldn’t last 90 minutes. I couldn’t get around.

“The gaffer and Nick Allamby (Wanderers’ then fitness coach, now at Sunderland) have made me a better athlete.”

That fitness ensured a new deal after promotion. Often employed as a right wing-back, but occasionally filling in as a number 10, Morais proved a versatile member of the squad on the club’s return to the Championship, making 37 appearances, even if he was no longer a cast-iron starter.

Indeed, when Wanderers looked to have wasted their best chance of survival at Burton on the penultimate weekend of the season, Parkinson restored Morais to the starting line-up against Nottingham Forest on the final day.

That stunning 3-2 comeback proved the last game for a handful of Bolton players, including the winning goal-scorer, Aaron Wilbraham. And for Morais, leaving the Macron was a dispiriting experience.

Having left for the summer to do his UEFA A Licence, a new deal already being discussed, he only found out via social media that his name would be among those released.

We now know that, behind the scenes, Wanderers were no longer operating on a strong financial footing. It would be a matter of weeks before players refused to turn up for a pre-season friendly at St Mirren over unpaid wages – including, rather ironically, Wilbraham’s goal bonus.

Regardless, it still felt Morais’ exit was badly handled, and reflected poorly on those in charge at the time.

He went on to play for Crawley – even having a short stint as a caretaker manager – Oldham Athletic and Grimsby Town before officially hanging up his boots on December 4.

If there was any bitterness in his departure at Bolton, it had faded by the time he spoke to The Buff Podcast last year.

“The group at Bolton was amazing, lots of good players who had played at a higher level. I loved the pressure around the club. For me it was the perfect club, it’s always what I’d been looking for - a club where the fans expect more.

“Even if you get a good result it’s like ‘okay we’ve won but we could have done this better’, or ‘he’s not Djorkaeff, he’s not Anelka’, and I liked that about Bolton because it made me feel like I was playing for something bigger than just me.”

There will not be a single Bolton fan who does not wish him well in his future endeavours. And knowing Morais, he will deliver, whatever he chooses to do.

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