The new technical director of Morocco’s national team seems upbeat, ready to help Morocco rise above the painful memories of its recent failures in major tournaments.
Rabat – Osian Roberts, the Welshman whom Morocco’s Royal Football Federation (FRMF) has just appointed as the new technical director of the Atlas Lions, Morocco’s national football team, is set to be a big part of the North African country’s grand plan to emerge from the fiasco it suffered in the recently concluded Africa Cup of Nations.
From the Welshman’s first interview since his appointment, he appears ready for the challenge, the monumental task of devising the plan that may deliver Morocco its first major trophy after over three decades of trophy drought, a mix of mediocre performance and half-hearted brilliance.
Speaking to Wales Online on August 3, Roberts spoke about legacy, the excitement of a new challenge, and the drive to make his mark—which he hopes will be positive and lasting—on Moroccan football.
The Welshman’s decision to take Morocco’s offer surprised many in his entourage, as he was in good terms with the Welsh federation, the employer he left for Morocco. But Roberts is adamant that he left his post with Wales because Morocco’s offer came with a challenge that spoke to his heart.
“They told me ‘Come in and build something special for us, leave a legacy’,” Osian said of Morocco’s call. “That appeals to me because it is what I have done here.”
Roberts’s legacy-inspired plea is warranted.
As the assistant coach of the Welsh national team, Roberts has been widely described as the mind behind the country’s recent runs of impressive forms, including a formidable outing at the latest European Championships and a qualification for the World Cup in Russia.
Roberts was particularly instrumental for Wales’ spectacular display at the 2016 European Championships in France, where the Welsh team, an underdog at the tournament, shocked European footballing behemoths by securing a spot in the semi-finals.
Goal, a football-focused outlet, explained, speaking of Robert’s role in the positive transformation Wales has witnessed of late in terms of football: “The popular coach, who has been involved with the Welsh coaching setup since 2010, was credited with the Dragons’ semi-final run at Euro 2016.”
Roberts said Morocco’s offer came “quickly,” unexpected. But so appealing—and grand—was the project design that he felt he could not turn it down.
He said that nothing “negative” precipitated his unexpected move to leave his post with the Welsh team. Rather, he explained, Morocco’s offer, and the responsibility that came with it, was a “challenge that really excites me.”
Roberts recounted the circumstances of his appointment by FRMF to make his point—about the grandeur of the challenge and the excitement of being the one to make it come true—clearer.
“It’s kind of just happened very quickly. I was in Armenia doing technical analysis of UEFA’s under-19s tournament when the Moroccan FA President made contact, invited me over for a chat. We had great discussions, I got to see the country and he invited me back on Tuesday to put something definitive together.
“I was still a little open-minded, but as things were put into place it became clearer and clearer this was a great opportunity I simply couldn’t turn down.”
But for all the enthusiasm, and despite his impressive record with Wales, Roberts appeared to show hints of awareness as to the different mindset and technical toolkit needed to deliver what Morocco is asking for—a recipe to do well in major continental and worldwide tournaments.
Roberts said FRMF gave him “the autonomy” he needs in his job to devise plans as it sees fit, plans that work—at least supposed to—for the kind of resources FRMF promised to put at his disposal.
But, he acknowledged, that autonomy will not be used to uncritically replicate the philosophy that made him successful during his tenure with Wales. The challenge is the same but the tactical environment and the philosophy should be different, he argued.
“I can’t just cut, copy and paste the Wales model I’ve helped build up and transport it over to Africa. It’s a completely different culture, a very different challenge. But building a national team’s department appeals for sure, although it will require lots of details to make it work.”
Again and again, Roberts’s language throughout the interview evinced optimism, readiness, and a sneaking sentiment that while Morocco’s team has not done particularly well in its recent outings, it has what it takes to do well.
The challenge, though, as far as Roberts sees it, will be to channel the resources available towards realizing the aspired results, the dream that has frustratingly—and sometimes, like this year, incomprehensibly—eluded the Moroccan Lions in decades. He said he is “intrigued” and excited to try with Morocco “something similar” to his Welsh success story.
With a technical director and a head coach— also newly appointed —with impressive resumes, Morocco appears to show no willingness of relinquishing on harboring grand designs and entertaining great expectations for its football team.
Having disappointed at the recent CAN and World Cup, Morocco sees in Vahid Halilhodzic (the newly appointed coach) and Roberts the unique combination it needs to deliver the kind of success after which the North African country has been desperately, relentlessly, chasing.
Halilhodzic’s task seems less daunting compared to Roberts, however.
The Franco-Bosnian coach’s successful experience with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup and Morocco’s Wydad in the late 1990s means he is familiar enough with the challenge Morocco—and African teams, in general—represents. But whether Roberts can replicate the inspiring moments he has had with Wales remains a big question mark.