BILEL MOHSNI faced two distinct choices as he grew up in a tough Paris suburb – fall into a life of crime or chase the dream of becoming a professional footballer.
The streets of Les Ulis, in the southwestern suburbs of the French capital, were full of temptation and danger for any youngster. However, thanks to his strength and the guidance of his father, Habib, the Rangers centre back stayed on the straight and narrow and has followed in some very famous footsteps.
Arsenal great Thierry Henry was born and brought up in Les Ulis, while Manchester United’s Patrice Evra also hails from the new town. Now Mohsni has become a cult hero of the Rangers supporters with his goal-scoring exploits following three years with Southend United.
However, he has revealed that had he not made it as a pro he would be working in a children’s care centre in his home town, trying to help the young stay away from the darker aspects of life.
The 26-year-old said: “You could be a gangster or you could play football. I was lucky because my dad was quite strict with me. I didn’t smoke or take drugs or have alcohol but it was all close by.
“It was always my dream to be a professional footballer and I have achieved this dream. If I didn’t make it I would have been working with children. When I was playing football in France I also worked at a centre where we looked after children from all ages. So we would teach them good habits to try to stop them from falling into bad ways.”
Mohsni is French-born but his roots are in Tunisia.
He said: “I was born in France and I lived there until I was 22 years old but my family is Tunisian and the culture is very important, so I feel French when I am in France and I feel Tunisian when I am in Tunisia.”
Habib was always looking out for Bilel and he refused to allow his son to go to watch his beloved Paris Saint-Germain when they were beaten on penalties by Rangers in 2001 in the Uefa Cup in what proved to be Dick Advocaat’s last major act as Ibrox manager.
Mohsni said: “My father thought it was too dangerous. The fans at Paris were like Celtic and Rangers fans. There were two factions and they didn’t like each other. In fact, they hated each other. My dad was afraid because we didn’t know what was going to happen. You could be walking between these two groups and suddenly they would start fighting, It’s better now, but my dad thought it was too dangerous then.”
Mohsni was largely successful with Southend under Paul Sturrock after signing in 2010 but he had a difference of opinion with Sturrock’s successor, Phil Brown. Now, after a trial period in the summer, he is proving to be a very astute Ally McCoist signing as Rangers have coasted to eight consecutive wins in League 1 and seek their ninth at Brechin tomorrow.
Mohsni said: “Football is in the mind more than it is in your feet. If you have problems in your private life then you can’t play at your highest level.
“When I came here I had a clear mind and I had moved on. The atmosphere at Rangers is great. There is pressure to win games but the focus is so good. It was complicated at Southend in my last season because of politics but now I feel completely free.
“The manager has given me his confidence and the players have let me play, so it is perfect for me. I think Ally McCoist and Paul Sturrock are similar and I feel I can work better with managers like them. I want to fight for managers like that. When you feel tired you still give 100 per cent.”
Mohsni, who has scored four times this season, believes Rangers can be undefeated in League 1 and he also wants to clinch a contract beyond the summer of 2015.
He said: “I think we can play the whole season without losing a league game because we have a strong team and a lot of good players for this league.
“I would love to get another contract before this one is over because my goal is to get back to the top with Rangers.”