Rabat - Mustapha Hadji, the Moroccan football team’s assistant coach and former international footballer, said that his squad has a great opportunity to become part of the kingdom’s football history if they make it against Ivory Coast on Saturday’s World Cup qualifier.
Rabat – Mustapha Hadji, the Moroccan football team’s assistant coach and former international footballer, said that his squad has a great opportunity to become part of the kingdom’s football history if they make it against Ivory Coast on Saturday’s World Cup qualifier.
Hadji has said it in an interview with British news outlet The Guardian. Speaking about the Moroccan passion for football, the former Moroccan star said that “after Islam, football is our second religion.”
“Morocco loves the game and is a real football country,” he added.
Only football fans can explain how exciting it is to show support for their favorite football teams. Like any sport, the game arouses indescribable emotion, excitement, and passion.
“Football is magic. it can do things that no other sport can,” Hadji told The Guardian. “It can make you cry in one second and make you feel in love the next. Politics cannot do that.”
Hadji expressed his aspirations out loud to the world, expecting the Moroccan team to end the World Cup qualifier’s last phase with a positive result that would make the current Moroccan team remembered for a long time.
“The players know they have a great opportunity to become part of Morocco’s football history and only they can make that happen,” the former footballer added. Hoping to book a place in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Hadji said that “if we qualify, everyone will remember [the Moroccan football team] for many years to come.“
The assistant coach stressed that Moroccans have been waiting for this chance for a long time. For Hadji, time has come to make the dream come true. “It would be the first time we have qualified since [King Mohammed VI] came to the throne so we will try to do it for him.”
Morocco’s qualification will be “the best gift we can give if we make it,” since “the Moroccan people have been waiting for this for a long time – rich people, poor people, the guy on top of a mountain with his sheep.”
The World Cup Is “Something Else”
Every single competition is an important phase for any team and footballer. For Hadji, the World Cup tournament is a special event for any team wishing to represent its country in the best way.
“You can play in the Premier League of Champions League but the World Cup is something else,” said the former midfielder. “To play for your country is the best level anyone can reach.”
“We have to do it not. We cannot just try,” he added.
Morocco has previously participated four times in 1970, 1986, 1994, and 1998 World Cup.
It is 31 years now since the Moroccan football team became the first Arabic and African team to qualify for the second round in the World Cup finals, despite facing strong squads, including England and Portugal. When Atlas Lions arrived in Mexico that year, “they did so with a formidable squad,” according to FIFA.com.
Hadji’s Early Life & Intro to Football
Hadji has a great career to remember. The footballer chose to represent Morocco as a Lion at the age of 22 in 1993, when he was back then playing for French football club Nancy.
The former international explained his choice by saying that “[he] was probably the first player to choose Morocco, and it comes down to what is in your heart.”
“It is not about money or anything else – you play for your own country and represent all your family,” he said, explaining that he is happy with his choice as well as the opportunity he has to be able “to help the current generation.”
The former legend played for different international football teams, including Sporting CP, Deportivo, Coventry City, Espanyol, and Emirates Club.
After a 20 year period of success, the footballer decided to resign. However, he has never stepped back from the field, working twice as an assistant coach. His first experience as an assistant was with the Qatari football team Umm Salal (2012- 2013) and then for former Moroccan coach Ezzaki Badou in 2014. “It was my dream to come back to the national team,” Hadji told The Guardian.
The footballer has been an influential person for many fans and footballers, including Morocco’s key forward Nordin Amrabat.
The 30-year-old forward admitted during the interview that Mustapha Hadji is one of his favorite Moroccan players, adding that he is thrilled by the fact that his idol is Morocco’s assistant team manager. “He’s now our assistant coach in the national team – a fantastic guy. In the beginning, it was special, but now he’s one of us!”
Hadji’s Relationship with Morocco’s Coach Herve Renard
Renard and Hadji’s relationship is unlike the typical onebonds between a coach and his assistant. Hadji said that “when Herve came in, we had a big meeting and he asked me to stay.” The former footballer said that he learned many things from the Frenchman, adding that they are now “more than just colleagues. We are friends who talk a lot and we have the same beliefs about football.”
Morocco’s current coach managed also Morocco’s opponent Ivory Coast in the past. “ Herve knows everything about them but we have to be careful,” said Hadji. The Moroccan star said that although “you know the players and their mentality like he does, it does not make it easy.”
The footballer also commended Renard’s coaching techniques, saying that he has done “a really great job.”
“You can see the atmosphere in the team – there is passion among the players and we have brought in a more professional approach,” Hadji added. For the former legend, bringing new players to the the team has not affected its effectiveness. “We have been able to mix together the best of the players from overseas and those who grew up in Morocco.”