Ex-Hibs defender Steven Thicot has travelled the globe but still calls Edinburgh home
When Steven Thicot arrived in Edinburgh he could never have imagined it would be the first step in a journey across the world.
Thicot’s travels have taken him to Portugal, Romania, back to Portugal, Greece and Malaysia and now on to the United States where he is playing for the ninth club in his career, Charlotte Independence.
There have been plenty of experiences, both good and bad but, admitted the 32-year-old Frenchman, the one thing that continues to gnaw away at him is that in three seasons at Easter Road, the Hibs fans never saw the true Steven Thicot.
A member of the French Under-17 side along with the likes of Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa, which won the European Championship in 2004, Thicot made the bold decision to head for Scotland after life at his club Nantes turned sour, armed only with three first-team games on loan at Sedan.
Not surprisingly, there was plenty of interest in the then 21-year-old but David Fouquet, a French scout working for Hibs boss Mixu Paatelainen, persuaded him to come on trial.
Thicot said: “To be honest, I did not know much about the club but the first day I went to the training ground I fell in love with the place. I had a manager that wanted me. I phoned my dad and told him I wasn’t moving, it was perfect for me to perform and do better than I actually did, which is a big regret.”
Few players can boast that one of their trial matches was with Barcelona – complete with Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi, Dani Alves et al – although Thicot reckons few will remember he also played against Raith Rovers, those appearances leading to a three-year deal.
But he was dealt a hammer blow, suffering a thigh injury just 33 minutes into his first game against Kilmarnock, putting him on the sidelines for three months.
He recalled: “It was a big blow but I still had a decent first season, playing 23 games and against the likes of Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen and, of course, Hearts. Perhaps the highlight was a derby at Tynecastle. We had so many players missing, people were telling us it was going to be brutal for us, but we won with Derek Riordan’s late penalty.
“I remember after the last game of the season against Aberdeen I told the press ‘You’ve not see the real Steven Thicot, I’ll meet you next season’.”
Before then, though, Paatelainen had gone, replaced by John Hughes. Thicot said: “I was on holiday when I got the message that Mixu was away. In France, we have an expression: ‘You know what you lose, you do not know what you are going to get’.”
Despite believing he’d had a good pre-season under Hughes, Thicot’s first appearance didn’t come until January and, in all, he played just 11 games although he did play in the final two which clinched a Europa League place.
However, in the last game against Dundee United at Tannadice, Thicot damaged his big toe and missed the matches against Slovenian outfit Maribor and, as Hughes was replaced, he played just six times under Colin Calderwood, the last in the January of that season.
Thicot admitted that while he wasn’t surprised to be told his contract wouldn’t be extended, the news was still “a little pinch to the heart”.
Portugal beckoned, a season with Naval before moving on to Dinamo Bucharest in Romania, then back to Portugal for spells with Belenenses and Tondela and then Greece and the Cypriot club Larissa.
Thicot said: “Portugal was my kind of football, even the bottom teams try to play it from the back which is my philosophy. In Greece, I played big games against the likes of PAOK and Olympiakos, it started well but after six months, although I liked the country, have good memories and made some friends, the club itself was disappointing in terms of organisation and so on.”
Malaysia and Melaka United may not have been on Thicot’s radar but came highly recommended by fellow Frenchman and former Hearts midfielder Morgaro Gomis.
He said: “You wonder what the football is going to be but Morgaro told me I should go. My first game was at home, the atmosphere was brilliant, the stadium was full.
“The quality is not what people think in Europe which annoys me because they don’t know. I have been there and the football is good, there are lots of foreign players, from Brazil, France, Spain, Argentina and so on. The lifestyle is great, sunshine all the time, living by the pool and the beach.”
Standing at the crossroads once more, Thicot found himself travelling in the opposite direction and the second tier of American football, the USL. He said: “I’ve turned 32 and there’s a few countries I would like to try. One was Australia, another the United States. This opportunity arose and, with the season about to start, I decided to come here and be in from the beginning rather than somewhere well into the season.”
However, wherever Thicot goes he regards Edinburgh as “home”, his wife Kim from the city while every visit takes him down to East Mains. He said: “Honestly, this is not the career I was thinking about as I came through the national youth teams. We worked hard for four years together, it was very intense. Every week we’d be phoning each other, asking had we played, had we scored. We are not as tight as we used to be, we don’t talk on a daily basis but I am sure if we were to meet up it would be like when we were kids.
“But I’ve been to so many countries to do what brings joy to my life every day. I’ve learned lots, had plenty of experiences, and can speak five languages.
“However, it was at Hibs where I started my real life as a professional footballer. I arrived as a kid but everyone made me feel at home and I’m not going to forget that. For me, Edinburgh is home.”