“Have you ever seen kids fighting to become a goalie? » Gabriel Hicham Guedira is still quite surprised. At the Juventus academy, the football school he set up in Casablanca in 2018, young people no longer just want to score goals. “They want to look like Yassine Bounou [the goalkeeper of the Atlas Lions, who plays for the Saudi club Al-Hilal],” laughs the former physical trainer of Grenoble Foot 38, who sees an effect of the World Cup in Qatar.

Since the Moroccan selection reached the semi-finals of the competition for the first time in December 2022, this football enthusiast has converted to business. observes a new attraction for positions, essentially defensive and until now little appreciated. And more broadly, a footballization of sport, with “young people who preferred to give up basketball or volleyball to play with their feet”.

The enthusiasm generated by Mountakhab, the national football team, is the most notable development since Morocco’s meteoric rise in the FIFA rankings. The selection, which reached eleventh place in the world after its performance in Qatar – it was not in the top fifty four years before – is now the stuff of dreams. Exit Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the two stars of European football, who have long monopolized the love of Moroccan supporters. “Today, everyone wants a Bounou or a Ziyech [striker Hakim Ziyech, who plays for Galatasaray] in the family,” says sports policy researcher Moncef Lyazghi.

“Renard reconciled us with our team and Regragui made us love him”

For the myriad of training centers, academies and private football schools in large cities, the fervor around the players has been synonymous with an increase in attendance from the start of the 2023 school year. Over one year, “we had 60% of registered in addition in our Casablanca complex and 300 additional in that of Bouskoura”, notes Adil Halla, the vice-president of Raja, one of the two clubs in the Moroccan economic capital. The queue when registration opens and the parents disappointed because there are no more places after a few days? “I had never seen that,” confides Moncef Lyazghi, whose two boys have been enrolled at the FUS school in Rabat for years.

However, the enthusiasm aroused by the results of Mountakhab has not always been, far from it. “We had a long journey through the desert,” admits journalist Amine Rahmouni, sports consultant for Moroccan public radio 2M. Between the lost final at the African Cup of Nations in 2004 and the appointment of Hervé Renard as coach in 2016, I have almost nothing but bad memories. » Crowned with two continental titles with Zambia and Ivory Coast, the current coach of the French women’s football team has not won any trophies with Morocco. But it allowed the selection to return to international competitions, after years of lean times.

“Renard reconciled us with our team and Regragui [Walid Regragui, the coach of the Atlas Lions] made us love him,” points out Amine Rahmouni, for whom the real footballing revolution is not to be found in performances of Lions or in the number of practitioners, but more in the new profiles of supporters. “Meetings are no longer just between friends, but as a family. The national team even managed the feat of mobilizing older women, who were much less interested in football. »

Golden age

Because football in Morocco is no longer just a men’s affair. Like boys, there are more and more girls on the pitch. In Rabat, where the Juventus academy is also present, “their number doubled in 2023,” indicates Gabriel Hicham Guedira. And this increase cannot be attributed solely to the Lions and their exploits. By reaching the final of the African Cup of Nations in 2022, and reaching the round of 16 for the first time at the last World Cup, the Lionesses have also contributed “to bringing Moroccan women closer to football”. underlines Moad Oukacha.

The president of the Sporting Club de Casablanca, which finished second in the Women’s Champions League of the African Cup of Nations in 2023, sees it as the success of the “Marshall Plan”, launched in 2020 by the Moroccan federation to develop football feminine. Since then, the budget of the national women’s league has been multiplied “by seven”, according to him, the first and second divisions have been professionalized and all the clubs have started to invest massively in the training of girls.

Is the democratization of football on the way? “No doubt, but the infrastructures are not keeping up,” nuance Moncef Lyazghi. All sports combined, there is one sports unit per 30,000 inhabitants. For football, it’s one per 74,000 inhabitants. » In addition to the disparity between regions, he notes the insufficient number of licensees. “Barely 80,000, or less than 0.2% of the population,” insists the researcher, who pleads for the implementation of a government strategy to create sports units and training academies “everywhere in Morocco, not just in Rabat or Casablanca”.

However, the development of grassroots football – or grassroots football – which promotes mass participation and promotes integration, seems to be underway. “We are witnessing a spectacular development of associations and small clubs, with the multiplication of local courts and a practice which is structured through real supervision and the organization of tournaments,” remarks Fadel Abdellaoui, a former member of the steering committee. of Raja, which reminds us how football has always been important “from a social point of view”.

Set to last, the post-Qatar euphoria is no longer limited to the grass. Less publicized, but just as impressive, the success of the Moroccan selection in futsal has established a discipline in which the kingdom is a prodigy: winner of the African Cup of Nations in 2020, quarter-finalist of the World Cup world in 2021, Arab world champion in 2022 and 2023… Amine Rahmouni is categorical: “Morocco is experiencing its golden age of global football. »