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The revolution that changed Morocco’s football

Raja Casablanca will be hoping to wrest the title from Wydad

Mthokozisi Dube

With Morocco beginning to establish its reign in African club competitions, Mthokozisi Dube examines reasons for the country’s emerging supremacy in continental club competitions.

In a historic feat, four Moroccan teams involved in the CAF Champions League and the Confederations Cup all progressed to the semi-finals early in March. Raja Casablanca, three-time winners of the African crown, elbowed out giants TP Mazembe of DRC after a 3-0 aggregate win.

Wydad Athletic Club eliminated Etoile Sahel of Tunisia on a similar 3-0 aggregate score line to book a place in the semi-final.

In the Confederations Cup, Sporting Renaissance of Berkane and Hassania of Agadir overcame Al-Masry of Egypt 3-1 on aggregate and Al-Nasr of Benghazi of Libya 7-0 respectively.

Interestingly, the two Moroccan teams will meet in the two-legged semi-final later this year.

Wydad are the only team to have won the Champions League after the turn of the millennium, capturing it in 2017.

On the other hand, Moroccan teams have won the Confederations Cup four times since 2000. FAR Rabat were crowned champions in 2005, FUS Rabat in 2010, Moghreb Tetouan in 2011 and Raja Casablanca in 2017.

The flattering record reflects the efforts made to improve Moroccan football, under the impetus of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) and its accomplished president, Fouzi Lekjaa.

A robust sports policy

“In recent years there has been a willingness to change things, to turn professional. I’ve been playing in Morocco for just over a year and a half now and I think its league is one of the best in Africa,” explains Burkina Faso international Alain Traore. The former Monaco striker has been playing for Botola Pro club Berkane since 2018 after stints in Europe.

The success recorded by Moroccan clubs is derived from an ambitious sports policy and accountability mechanisms to ensure implementation.

After his election in 2014 as head of FRMF, Lekjaa, who is also director of the state budget and former president of the Sports Renaissance of Berkane, began to implement his program, which revolves around three key themes.

“First, take care of the infrastructure. That meant renovating stadiums or building new arenas, whether for professional or amateur clubs. And he put an end to synthetic pitches in order to impose natural turf. The president also asked that the clubs be structured at the administrative level and that they adopt a rigorous management policy,” explains Jamal Kouachi, a member of the FRMF steering committee.

Financial boost for clubs

As a spill-off from the robust sports policy, there was an improvement in the clubs’ financial status. The clubs were placed under the supervision of the National Control and Management Directorate, a model adopted from the French. The FRMF grants each League 1 club an annual subsidy of approximately $700 000.

“And those who take part in the African Cups receive financial aid from the federation for travel and accommodation,” Kouachi adds.

In an unprecedented move, the FRMF last month chartered a plane to allow Raja Casablanca to travel to Lubumbashi in the best conditions ahead of their all-important clash with TP Mazembe. Raja returned home with the much-needed win.

The federation also decided to grant Moroccan clubs bonuses based on their performance on the national stage.

“Financially, the clubs are doing better. In most of them, salaries are paid on time, training conditions are improving. The general level is improving as well, Moroccan football is even more attractive and this attracts foreign players and coaches who help to improve it,” says Traoré.

Youth development

Morocco has also focused on training young players who are likely to join professional clubs. Training centers have been set up in Berkane and Tetouan, and the Raja training center in Casablanca, which will be officially opened in the coming months.

“When he was elected, Fouzi Lekjaa had a football development program asking clubs to strengthen their training policy,” said Mustapha El Haddaoui, a former international with 55 caps for the Atlas Lions.

In 2009, King Mohammed VI inaugurated a training centre carrying his name in Salé, near Rabat, from which several Moroccan internationals such as Youssef En-Nesyri (Sevilla FC), Nayef Aguerd and Hamza Mendyl (Dijon FCO) have graduated. Training centers, placed under the supervision of the FRMF, have been set up in several regions of Morocco.

 “There’s really a big step forward that has been taken. The clubs are working better, they are proving that they are able to compete with the best on the continent, such as Esperance de Tunis, TP Mazembe and Al-Ahly. Awareness has been raised at the level of the federation, which invests a lot of money, and also of the state, which is involved in this project. It’s an in-depth work and the results of the clubs in recent months are the translation of this,” says El Haddaoui, the president of the Moroccan Union of Professional Footballers.

Excellent football facilities

In December, Morocco made its bid to become the premier sports mecca in Africa clear when unveiling the $65 million Mohammed VI National Complex.

The state-of-the-art facility is the continent’s biggest national football high performance center, which features world-class equipment, leading sports science equipment meant to facilitate the developing of high-achieving football stars.

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