2022 World Cup: Things to know about Morocco coach Walid Regragui

The talented Morocco national team had been plagued by internal strife until Walid Regragui came on board. Now, they are the first Arab and African country to qualify for a World Cup semi-final. Who is this unheralded coach who has been compared to an avocado?

• 1. He is a former footballer and Moroccan international

Born in France, Regragui – whose first name is sometimes spelt Hoalid – was a right-back who played in smaller French and Spanish teams such Ajaccio in Ligue 1 before he moved to La Liga with Racing Santander.

He did well enough to be called up by the national team and played 45 times for them, reaching the Africa Cup of Nations in 2004 when Morocco lost to Tunisia in the final.

• 2. He was appointed just 81 days before the Qatar World Cup

Vahid Halilhodzic was Morocco’s coach when the Atlas Lions qualified for Qatar 2022. But the Bosnian was sacked after being criticised for not picking enough locally based players and ignoring Hakim Ziyech.

Up stepped Regragui, who actually had only 60 days to prepare for the major assignment. While being a relative unknown, he is a winner with a strong managerial record.

After his first assignment as Morocco’s assistant national coach for a year, he coached in the local league at FUS, Qatar league with Al-Duhail before returning to the Botola Pro with Wydad AC. He won league titles with all three clubs, and has 302 games under his belt at the club level and lost only 68 matches.

He is unbeaten with Morocco, conjuring five wins and three draws.

• 3. He has united Morocco football

With a group of diaspora and local-born players, there is potential for contention and controversy such as Netherlands-born Ziyech’s omission under Halilhodzic.

Fourteen of the 26 players in the Morocco squad are born overseas, but Regragui has managed to keep them united.

After beating Spain in the round of 16, he said: “Before this World Cup, we had a lot of problems with the guys born in Europe and the guys born in Morocco. But today I think it shows to the world that every Moroccan is a Moroccan.”

Being a foreign-born Moroccan himself means he is able to draw on his own experience and get the best out of stars with similar backgrounds to commit to the national team.

• 4. He has a pragmatic coaching philosophy

In their five matches at this World Cup, Morocco have played Croatia, Belgium, Canada, Spain and Portugal with an average possession of just 31.6 per cent, while their pass completion rate is also less than stellar at 76.8 per cent.

But the most important statistic is they are still in the tournament. Opponents still have not been able to score directly against them; the only goal they conceded was their own goal against Canada.

What makes them tick is the defensive tactical discipline, counterattacking speed, and of course, Yassine Bounou’s goalkeeping flair, all of which Regragui deserves credit for.

In particular, they have been executed to near perfection their defensive blankets comprising their back four and midfield three to suffocate other teams before launching Achraf Hakimi, Youssef En-Nesyri and Ziyech on the break.

Regragui said: “I can set up in a myriad of ways. I admire Pep Guardiola, Diego Simeone and Carlo Ancelotti, but I have my own individual style of adapting the team based on the capabilities of the players available.”

• 5. He could make avocado Morocco’s national fruit

When he was appointed, underwhelmed pundits gave the bald Regragui the derogatory nickname “avocado head”.

Rather than take it to heart, he showed great EQ to pose for a photo, holding an avocado with a soccer ball inside it and pointing his finger at his head.

His players have also caught on to the trolling, patting his head before matches for luck and evoking memories of Laurent Blanc kissing Fabian Barthez’s pate before France matches at their triumphant World Cup 1998 campaign.

Source: Modern Ghana