Walid Regragui is setting the pace for Africa’s football ambitions

WHEN Walid Regragui was appointed as the head coach of the Moroccan national team in September this year, few would have expected a run this deep into the FIFA World Cup, his first tournament.

He is only the second Moroccan to take charge of the Atlas lions at the World Cup. Before him, Abdellah Binda led the team at USA 1994 but could not accrue a point in the group stage. The Atlas Lions ended the tournament with three one-goal deficits against Belgium (1-0), Saudi Arabia (2-1), and Netherlands (2-1).

Only those familiar with the 47-year-old’s exploits with Wyadad Casablanca, steering them to CAF Champions League glory, would have expected his accomplishments in Qatar. The Atlas Lions are into the Semi-Finals of the world cup, have beaten Portugal, Spain, and Belgium, and have only conceded one (own) goal all tournament.

These achievements are the fruits of hard work, collective spirit, and focused footballing investment into the Moroccan landscape over the past decade. Regragui, too, is reaping from years of grafting and professional development.

Walid Regragui during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 quarterfinal match between Morocco and Portugal (via Getty Images)
Regragui’s history in the sport

His playing career spanned several European outfits: Toulouse FC, AC Ajaccio, Racing Santander, and Dijon-accruing 45 caps for his national team. In these, he accrued over 200 domestic league appearances and scored nine goals from right-back.

After retirement, Regragui embellished his experience with coaching experiences at Morocco (as an assistant coach), Fath Union Sport (a first division side in Morocco), a spell at Al-Duhail in Qatar, then at Wydad AC. He racked up over 300 appearances in these spells and boasted a win rate of over 60 per cent across his past three jobs.

In June this year, he was one of the twenty-three coaches who obtained the inaugural CAF Pro License Diploma — the highest qualification in coaching education in Africa. This badge is on par with the global elite qualifications and is reserved for coaches active at a professional level who have completed subsidiary licenses.

The first recipients of the CAF pro license (via CAF online)

Remarkably, twenty of the receipts were Moroccan coaches — a testament to the country’s commitment towards the sport. Senegal’s head coach, Aliou Cisse, and two-time CAF Champions League winner, Pitso Mosimane, were also recipients.

The recipients of this license became the forerunners of a new era of African football, making a name for themselves and striving to raise the continent’s ambitions.

The power of his words

Regragui has been vocal about barriers for coaches of colour in the larger football stratosphere and feels his exploits at the tournament will be a turning point.

He said “Ten years I am a coach, nobody looked at me. ‘No, it is impossible, he does not have the experience. Let’s look at somebody else’.”

Furthermore, he believes his commanding run in the tournament is a testament to his ability but notes that many others like himself are not given the opportunity.

“When people talk about experience, experience doesn’t matter, it’s skills. It doesn’t matter about your background, religiously or culturally speaking where you are from. It’s about skills,”Regragui stated.

When speaking to the media before Morocco’s win vs Portugal, he said, “There are moments in history that make people change their mind, but it is on us as African and Arab people to change history. At a certain point, this could happen.”

This is that moment. 

Celebrations after Morocco’s win against Portugal in the quarter-finals

The Moroccan men’s national team are in the spotlight on the biggest stage. The world is paying attention to their accomplishments.

Significance of the match vs France

Today, the Atlas Lions face off against Les Bleus in a match with enormous cultural and political significance. They will be the first African and Arab nation to jog out onto the pitch in the FIFA World Cup semifinals. France is the defending champion and a former colonial master.






     

     

    Moroccans make up nearly one-fifth of the immigrant population in France. Regragui and several others in the national team were born in France yet are pursuing the greatest footballing achievement with their ancestral countries.

    Walid Regragrui’s journey with the Moroccan team and this match will be heralded as one of the most culturally consequential for millions.

    Regragui has been referred to as ‘The Moroccan Guardiola’, analogizing his early dominance and tactical astuteness with that of prominent Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

    However, with his most significant achievement yet, the Atlas Lion’s manager is now setting his narrative and thrusting the continent into the global limelight.

    Joel currently monitors and writes stories affecting the local political and sports atmosphere. In his spare time, he strives to accentuate data privacy legislation on the continent.

    Additionally, Joel regularly curates tactical analyses on football–check his Twitter page (@crunchpick) for more.

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