“This is the best generation that Morocco has known,” said Abdeslam Ouaddou

If there’s one man who won’t be going to Qatar this World Cup, it’s him. Abdeslam Ouaddou knows the Emirate very well: he played there from 2010 to 2012. A very bad experience for former AS defender Nancy Lorraine. Deprived of training, salary, accommodation, forced to change clubs… He was even prevented from returning to France for some time, due to the lack of an exit visa given by his employer. The ex-Moroccan international (59 caps) finally survived by seizing FIFA, which proved him right.

Since then, he has repeatedly denounced the awarding of this World Cup and even pressured Qatar to abolish “kafala”, a system that imposes on every foreigner a guardian in the country. All this does not prevent the technician, currently exported to Benin (Loto-Popo FC), from watching “many matches” of the competition. With a particularly wary eye on the Atlas Lions, who he sees going “to the final”.

How are you following this World Cup?

I certainly have a special history with Qatar but that doesn’t stop me from watching No. 1 sport in the world. Especially during the World Cup. I support my two countries (he has dual nationality), Morocco and France. Not forgetting Senegal, because many trained, like me, in France. I also look at other teams, to study their strengths and weaknesses, their organizations, their systems…

What have you enjoyed so far?

I will say the pedagogy of the referees. They are often decried but there, I find that they are part of the game. Whereas usually, we see two teams and a man in black. They approach the matches with a desire to approach the players with great calmness and serenity, without repression.

What about the game then?

Aside from some really playable teams, I found it calculated a lot. It’s very tactical, we see a lot of low and grouped blocks that change the move. In some matches, we are impatient! Hopefully it won’t stop in the knockout matches.

Where do you place Morocco in all this?

He played with his weapons. Let’s not forget that the coach (Walid Regragui) took over the team just two months ago. So it’s normal to be cautious at first, to reassure yourself. But, little by little, I found that they have freed themselves, especially against Canada (2-1). They are confident after their two good results (0-0 against Croatia and 2-0 against Belgium).

What can you see in these Atlas Lions?

I love their passion, their determination, their overwhelming desire to place their country so high. And unlike twenty years ago for example, I see real individual and collective intelligence on the part of the players. Those of this generation have tactical knowledge that allows them to manage battles well. Before, Morocco always had very good technical players, but there was a collective naivety.

To what do you attribute this development?

To the coaches of these selections, who played in Europe. They learned this tactical discipline and it allowed them to take a step forward.

Most African players play away from their country now…

Quite a few have also trained in the Netherlands (Ziyech, Mazraoui, Amrabat), in Spain (Hakimi) and especially in France. Apart from En-Nesyri, Ounahi and Aguerd, who went through the Mohamed IV academy, nobody learned football in Morocco. But this is already true in the World Cup in Russia in 2018.

For Walid Regragui, it was Corbeil-Essonnes. His history as a coach is incredible, isn’t it?

No, it was a normal path for him to take in this group. He is a former player who graduated, got results in a well-structured club (FUS Rabat), had a short experience in Qatar (2020) and regained the Wydad team (Casablanca), where he was African champion. It is logical that he was entrusted with the selection after the tragic sacking of Vahid Halilhodzic (in August). Only Walid Regragui has the perfect profile to succeed him. He knows very well the mentality of his players, who have almost the same background as him. It means to parents or grandparents who are economic migrants, whose children are educated in Europe. When you know the history of your group well, it is an advantage for the manager.

Among Moroccan players, do you stand out more than others?

Nothing surprising in my opinion. But if I had to highlight one, it would be Amrabat. In front of the defense, he does an exceptional job and is part of the usual team of the first phase. It’s just huge! On another register, one might question Ziyech’s state of form not playing at Chelsea. But he came with a lot of freshness, gradually found the rhythm. He will count. Finally, I think of En-Nesyri. He has an atypical style and has been criticized by most fans, which is unfair. But a football-savvy technician quickly realized its importance to the device.

You didn’t mention the defense, which has just one goal in three games…

Yes, it’s solid, but I just don’t put the front four back. Morocco is solid thanks to the block of its team and the willingness of everyone to make efforts for the touch. Check out the extraordinary work of the attacking line!

Where do you place this team in the history of Moroccan selection?

There are many parameters that make me say that this is the best generation that Morocco has known. I say that without disparaging the predecessors, of which I am a part. But the current group combines technicality, impressive physical capacity and above all collective intelligence. They are able to think, which was not the case a few years ago. In terms of tactical thinking, it is limited.

How far will he go?

I can already see them winning against Spain in the round of 16. Why ? Because La Roja has a game based on possession, movement, passing. But Morocco has such tactical intelligence that it can counter if it manages to close the gaps properly. And then I see them go to the final! They might think I’m crazy, but I guarantee you they can go there. Unless some injuries happen as bench depth seems limited to me.

If there is a final, will you return to Qatar?

No, I will not set foot in this country.

Does it bother you that the Emirate is currently highlighted, after all you’ve experienced there?

No, because the World Cup is welcomed in every country in the world. In football, there is no sectarianism normally, it is an opportunity to bring people together. Now, if we look a little closer and look at respect for human rights, workers’ rights and other things, we tell ourselves that there is a problem. FIFA entrusts the World Cup to a country that excludes people. In terms of ethics and morals, that bothers me.

Are you afraid that once this World Cup is over, the situation in Qatar will return to normal?

It should be understood that this small Emirate is located between two behemoths, Iran and Saudi Arabia. They want to exist and this World Cup allows them to show them. For that, they made a concession on the reception of migrants, labor laws, so that this World Cup could take place. I sincerely think that all that will stop after this wonderful event. Unfortunately maybe, but Qatar is a sovereign state.

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