Morocco – A nation not getting the football credit they deserve
Every time the Africa Cup of Nations comes around, it is met with an imperceptible nod by some while others can hardly contain their excitement.
When watching the tournament, there is always the chance that the next George Weah will jump out of the screen at scouts the world over and a huge bidding war will ensue, leading amateur football pundits on Twitter to try and persuade everyone that they spotted this talented individual ages ago and should get a finder’s fee.
One side, though, that get little attention in the media, perhaps due to their lack of a star like Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane, is Morocco. The North African nation has produced some exceptionally talented footballers, but perhaps never that world superstar required for a more microscopic focus from the press.
What is clear is the country has a hugely dedicated fanbase with football being the most popular sport in the country, which has helped them produce a crop of players that have excelled across Europe for many years.
The national team has had limited success, winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 1976 and finishing runners-up in 2004, but they were the first Arab and African side to reach the second round of a World Cup and win their group, which they achieved in 1986.
The players they produce are often technically gifted rather than physically imposing, and their style can be compared to that of the European nations geographically closest in Portugal and Spain.
Moroccan players in the Premier League
There have not been many Moroccans to play in the English top flight, but the names that will be most familiar are the likes of Marouane Chamakh, Adel Taarabt, and Romain Saiss.
Chamakh played for Arsenal after signing from Bordeaux in 2010 and went on to make 40 Premier League appearances for the Gunners, netting eight times. Taarabt will be best known for his time with QPR where he, literally, won them promotion to the top flight.
His ability is well documented but so is his attitude problem, which has seen him struggle to get to the top of the game and lead a nomadic career spanning four nations and seven different clubs despite being only 30 years old.
The most recent Moroccan addition to the English top flight is that of Wolves midfielder Romain Saiss. The 29-year-old played 19 times last season as the Black Country club secured seventh place. They are considered outsiders for a top-four finish in 2019-20 in Premier League betting markets with odds of 16/1 and look like an exciting club to watch.
With the core of the Moroccan national team getting older, it is important for the nation to focus on the future. Defender Medhi Benatia is 32, while Mbark Boussoufa is 34, and their careers are nearing an end, but in Schalke duo Hamza Mendyl and Amine Harit, the Atlas Lions have two players showing promise.
They are both hoping to play a bigger role in the Bundesliga next season while Achraf Hakimi is enjoying a growing reputation with Borussia Dortmund on loan from Real Madrid.
The need to produce a clinical striker at the top level is still an issue for Morocco but they are a nation that deserves more of a mention for the way they play their football