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Who is Walid Regragui, Morocco’s coach? How was his career as a DT and as a player?

The 47-year-old coach admitted he will feel torn in tonight’s semi-final, as his Morocco side take on France, his birth country.

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Morocco Training - Al Duhail SC Stadium, Doha, Qatar - December 13, 2022 Morocco coach Hoalid Regragui during training REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

It’s possible that even in his wildest dreams, Walid Regragui could not have envisaged his current situation. Later today, the 47-year-old Morocco coach will be leading his team out at Al Bayt stadium where they will be battling for a place in the World Cup final. No African team has ever gone as far in the tournament as Regragui’s Morocco, and now he will be hoping to make history again by guiding his team to Sunday’s final. Standing in the way will be France, his birth country.

Regragui was born in Corbeil-Essonnes, 29 kilometres south of central Paris. The French capital has a large Maghrebi population and around 20% of the country’s immigrant population are of Moroccan nationality or descent. In many cases, allegiances will be divided but Regragui, who was only appointed at the end of August, is focused on getting the Atlas Lions through to the final which would be a remarkable achievement on many levels.

Regragui’s early days as player in Paris

Regragui has spent the last six years in coaching but before that, he was a professional player. He started out playing in the youth categories of one of the capital’s historic clubs, Racing Club de France Football, turning pro in 1998.

Throughout his playing career, Regragui occupied a defensive role - occasionally at centre-back or midfield but usually at right-back - the position he held during his first season in Ligue 2 with Toulouse. In January 2001 he made his international debut for Morocco in a World Cup qualifier against Egypt - the first of 45 appearances at senior level. As a defender, Regragui was described as “a player with six lungs, extremely strong with a lot of character. He runs more than three players combined and has the ability to cover large areas of the pitch”. His Morocco team has similar attributes, and you can see where they get it from...

He switched to Ajaccio in the summer of 2001 but didn’t see any regular first team action until his second season. In 2004, he was on the move again, this time to a different country. He joined Spanish outfit Racing Club Santander on a three-year deal and with a reputation following his displays for Morocco at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier that year in which the team ended just missing out on the trophy after losing the final to Tunisia.

Coaching potential spotted

Even during his time in Spain, there were signs that a career in coaching lay ahead for the full-back. Lucas Alcaraz, his coach at Racing, spotted Regragui’s talent right away: “Just from the way he said things, you could tell that one day he would make a great coach”.

By that time Regragui was in his early 30s and his playing days were drawing to a close. After leaving Racing in the 2007 winter transfer window, returned home to France to play out the latter stage of his career at Dijon and Grenoble - at the latter he was team mates with a player who his team will be trying to stop later today, Olivier Giroud.

Morocco's coach #00 Walid Regragui (C-L) celebrates after winning the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final football match between Morocco and Portugal at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on December 10, 2022. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP)
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Morocco's coach #00 Walid Regragui (C-L) celebrates after winning the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final football match between Morocco and Portugal at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on December 10, 2022. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP)ODD ANDERSENAFP

Coaching career takes off

As Lucas Alcaraz predicted, Regragui did go into coaching, gaining his license in 2014. He spent several seasons in Rabat coaching Fath Union Sport and developing his managerial skills. He left in January 2020 to take up a post with Qatari outfit Al-Duhail. He guided the team to their seventh Qatar Stars League title but there was disappointment in the AFC Champions League where they were eliminated at the group stage. Regragui was dismissed after just nine months in the job and remained out of work for a few months until he was hired by Moroccan side Wydad. His brief spell in Casablanca was successful - he led Wydad to the Botola and their third CAF Champions League title.

Morocco came knocking last summer. Regragui accepted the post, giving himself just three months to prepare the team for their World Cup adventure. Regarded in football circles as The Moroccan Pep Guardiola, it is easy to see why Regragui is so highly respected. During his time at the helm his team is unbeaten in eight games and have conceded just one goal - against Canada in the group stage.

Regragui, who didn’t get the chance to play in a World Cup finals during his playing career, says he is determined to keep up the good work. “We’re fortunate to have an array of talent at our disposal and also players who have matured at great clubs,” he said in a recent interview with FIFA. “The Moroccan people should be proud of having stars who play in the Champions League and at clubs such as Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain. So, in terms of quality, we’re blessed. During the qualifiers, we showed that our team is steely and well organised. My job now is to ensure that our system works so that we can compete with the big nations. I’m not here to find excuses. Our goal is to do our best in the World Cup and make our fans proud”.


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