The name Walid Regragui is one that will always be remembered in the annals of Moroccan and African football. As the first African coach to lead a team to the quarterfinals of the World Cup, and the first manager of African descent to take an African team to the semi-finals, Regragui has achieved a level of success that only a few others have.
However, to the casual football fan, it may seem like Regragui came out of nowhere with no prior history or background. But, that’s not the case. Here are five things you may not know about this Moroccan football coach:
- He was appointed 81 days before the world cup
He became the Moroccan coach just 81 days before the world cup, making him one of the most unlikely heroes in football history. After Vahid Halilhodzic, the coach who led the team to qualification was fired due to criticism over his player selection, Regragui stepped into the role with just 60 days to prepare for the tournament.
Despite being a relative unknown, his strong managerial record, including three league titles with different clubs, made him a valuable choice. Under his leadership, the Moroccan team was unstoppable. In eight matches under Regragui, Morocco recorded five wins and three draws. Regragui’s success has made him a beloved figure in Morocco, and his team’s performance at the World Cup has been nothing short of miraculous.
2. He became a symbol of unity
The line-up of the Morocco national team, which included players from both local and foreign-born backgrounds, had the potential to create conflict and controversy. This was seen in the case of Netherlands-born Hakim Ziyech, who was omitted from the team by the previous coach, Vahid Halilhodzic. However, under the leadership of Coach Regragui, the team has remained united, with 14 of the 26 players being born overseas.
After their victory over Spain in the round of 16, Regragui stated that the team had overcome issues with players from different backgrounds and that the win showed the world that “every Moroccan is a Moroccan”. As a foreign-born Moroccan himself, Regragui was able to draw on his own experiences and bring out the best in players with similar backgrounds. This was key to the team’s success and unity at the World Cup.
3. His style of football is relatable
Morocco’s performance in the World Cup was impressive, with a possession average of only 31.6 percent and a pass completion rate of 76.8 percent across their five matches. However, the most impressive statistic was their ability to keep their opponents from scoring against them. Coach Regragui deserves credit for implementing a defensive tactical discipline and counterattacking speed. Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou’s flair was also key to their success.
In particular, Morocco executed their defensive strategy to near perfection, using a back four and midfield three to suffocate opposing teams before launching counterattacks with players like Achraf Hakimi, Youssef En-Nesyri, and Ziyech. Regragui has said that he admires the styles of coaches like Pep Guardiola, Diego Simeone, and Carlo Ancelotti, but ultimately has his own individual approach.
4. He is a joyful soul with great humor
Regragui, the coach of Morocco’s national soccer team, has been nicknamed “avocado head” by underwhelmed pundits. Rather than letting the derogatory nickname get to him, he showed great emotional intelligence by posing for a photo with an avocado with a soccer ball inside it, pointing to his head. His players also embraced the nickname, patting his head for luck before matches and evoking memories of Laurent Blanc kissing Fabian Barthez’s head before France’s triumphant World Cup 1998 campaign. In fact, Regragui has even joked about making avocado Morocco’s national fruit.
5. A national hero who once represented Morocco
He became a national hero both as a player and a coach. Regragui is a retired professional footballer who once represented Morocco on the international stage. Born in France, he began his career playing for a number of smaller French and Spanish clubs, such as Ajaccio in Ligue 1. His impressive performances eventually led to a transfer to Racing Santander in Spain’s La Liga. He was subsequently selected to join the Moroccan national team, where he made 45 appearances, including at the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations where his team ultimately finished as runners-up to Tunisia.