From Montreal to Seville via Casablanca: Bono's journey to Morocco World Cup hero

Goalkeeper has already carved his name into Sevilla’s history and is now doing the same for his country

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Anthony Martial walked on to Sevilla’s training field this January and shook his head before shaking hands with his new teammate, goalkeeper Yassine Bounou. The pair smiled at each other.

In August 2020, the goalkeeper now widely known as 'Bono' won the man of the match award for Sevilla against Manchester United in the Europa League semi-final in Cologne.

No player had more attempts on target than Martial, but Bono, who was on loan and had been brought in as reserve keeper, stopped six shots. His opposite David de Gea made one stop. Sevilla knocked United out 2-1 and went on to win a sixth Europa League title. In the final, Bono made a vital one-on-one save against Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku. He won a permanent contract with Sevilla the following month.

“Since those Europa League exploits Bono carved his name into Sevilla’s history,” says Kenneth Asquez, a football intermediary with an office in Seville and close links to both the city’s clubs and who watches both Sevilla and Betis. “He’s a hero with the fans.”

That can be a blessing and a curse at Sevilla, whose business model is based on selling their best talents to richer clubs.

“Bono is the one player in the present squad who the club is hoping to make a significant sale on in a forthcoming transfer window,” added Asquez. “They thought that would happen before this season and even bought a new first choice goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic from Serbia in 2021.”

Dmitrovic wears number 1, Bono number 13, but Bono has kept him out of the side. Bono, 31, came to global attention on Tuesday when he saved two Spain penalties and didn’t concede a goal in 130 minutes of football. The win was one of the greatest moments in Moroccan football, one celebrated in Qatar where Moroccan fans outnumbered Spain fans 5-1, in the Arab world and in Spain, which has a significant Moroccan diaspora.

Bono has made his professional living in Spain for the last decade but he was born in Montreal before his family moved from Canada to Morocco when he was young.

Sevilla goalkeeper Yassine Bounou attempts to punch clear during the Europa League last-16, second leg against West Ham United, in March 2022.   EPA

“I was in high school with Yassine, the big French high school in Casablanca,” Walid El Mernissi tells The National. “He actually played as an outfield player at school, not a goalkeeper. Then he became a goalkeeper with Wydad Casablanca. He went through the youth system and was then with the first team.

“Wydad reached the final of the African Champions League. He was the third choice goalkeeper but ended up playing the second leg in the final in 2011 – which we lost 1-0 but where he played really well.

“He had a great game and a few weeks later he was going to Atletico Madrid. He was always second and third choice and with the B team, but he’s smart. He went to Zaragoza [in Spain’s second tier] on loan and played every week.”

Bono’s next move was to Girona. “He helped us get promotion to La Liga. He played in the side which beat Barcelona and Madrid – he flourished and was with us at Girona for several years,” explains Girona’s Juan Carlos Moreno, who also played for Barcelona.

Yassine Bounou is thrown into the air by Sevilla teammates after the match against Athletic Bilbao in May 2022. AFP

“He’s a fantastic person, very tranquil, secure and he transmitted that to the team. He gave Girona confidence. He’s religious, close to his family. As a goalkeeper he was stable. What I liked about him here was that he improved every single season. You could see how well he saved shots with his legs – and we’ve seen that again in the World Cup finals. We’re really happy for him.”

Girona were relegated in 2019. Bono was not a goalkeeper who should have been playing second tier football and besides, Girona needed cut their wage bill. He went on loan to Sevilla for the 2019-20 season. Appearing for a higher profile team playing European football meant they could see more of him in Morocco.

El Mernissi points out that La Liga games are popular in Morocco. “Everyone has a Spanish team they like. We’ve watched him killing it for Sevilla where he won the Zamora trophy for being the league’s best goalkeeper last season.

“We could see his confidence for his team and we’ve long seen it for our country. He was tranquil, he had peace of mind. Against Spain before the penalty shoot outs, he was speaking with Spain’s goalkeeper Unai Simon as if it was a friendly game. Everyone is so proud of him.

“His trajectory was because of talents, opportunities, intelligence and very smart moves – like to Zaragoza in the second division. Football is a second religion of Morocco and we were all united as one when we celebrated on Tuesday.”

Sitting at his home on the outskirts of Bucharest watching the game was Helmut Duckadam, the former Steaua Bucharest goalkeeper who saved three penalties in the 1986 European Cup final against Barcelona in Seville.

His saves prevented the Catalans – with their English manager Terry Venables, German playmaker Bernd Schuster and Scottish forward Steve Archibald – winning a first ever European Cup in front of a 70,000 strong crow, of which just 40 didn’t want them to win, consisting of a few Steaua officials and carefully vetted Communist Party members. Several defected.

“I dreamt all my life for a match to be decided on penalties,” he said “It was my moment, my stage. The stars aligned for me in Seville.” Steaua became the first team from Eastern Europe to be crowned continental champions. Steaua played Manchester City in a 2016 European game, City’s Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano told him that the people of Barcelona would never forgive him. Pep Guardiola confessed that he never thought Barca would lose that game.

There were many in Spain again on Tuesday who thought the same – and then it went to penalties and Bono saved three. ‘Duckadam’ Bono was the headline in La Vanguardia. Duckadam liked that.

“This week has proved that penalty kicks can be defended,” he told The National, “Both Dominik Livakovici of Croatia and Yassine Bouno of Morocco proved that. The goalkeeper is another defender who can save the team.”

Updated: December 08, 2022, 4:22 PM