Late 60s are when Fatima Regragui was born. She never traveled abroad to watch her son Walid play professionally. Walid spent time with teams like Toulouse and Ajaccio in the French divisions. He also made 45 appearances for Morocco. Not even in Paris, where she resides and where Walid was born 47 years ago when he was performing. Never once.
She has been in Doha since the beginning of the FIFA World Cup, and the Moroccan FA has been taking care of her and all the other visiting relatives of players and employees. She has undoubtedly been her son’s fortunate charm, it is fair to say.
The tale of Walid Regragui in this competition is a football fairy tale. The former right-back had no idea that eight months prior when the Atlas Lions qualified for Qatar 2022, he would be sitting on the national team’s bench for the competition. There had been talking of his taking over as a leader in place of Vahid Halilhodzic, but the talk never materialized. Yet on Wednesday, he will play Didier Deschamps’ France for a place in the World Cup final.
On the Montconseil council estate in Corbeil-Essonnes, a neighborhood south of Paris, Regragui was raised. His father, a builder, merely wanted that his kid performs well in school. Walid then took that action. He was astute, having completed his undergraduate studies before enrolling at a university to study economics.
Meanwhile, Rudi Garcia, the former manager of Lille, AS Roma, and Lyon who started his managerial career years ago at Corbeil, saw success in the lower levels, rising from the fifth division all the way to Ligue 1.
Garcia will be providing commentary for French television for his friend’s most crucial game on Wednesday at the Al Bayt Stadium.
Regragui was always planning to be a manager once he retired from playing, according to everyone who knows him or has interacted with him throughout his playing career, including France striker Olivier Giroud, who participated in one preseason training camp with him in 2007 at Grenoble.
“He was highly intelligent, way above average. And he was liked by every player in every dressing room. His social skills were fantastic,” Roland Courbis, who oversaw him at Ajaccio, noted this.
Regragui’s interpersonal abilities, together with his fluency in French, Arabic, and English, allowed him to convince Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui to rejoin the national squad. They both had declined to participate in Halilhodzic’s team. They returned after speaking with Regragui, and now they play an important role in this fascinating journey.
Regragui won the African Champions League with WAC Casablanca, defeating Al-Ahly 2-0 in May, before to taking on Morocco after Halilhodzic’s departure. He used it as a way to prove to himself that he was prepared for more. He didn’t anticipate replacing Halilhodzic in August, so close to the start of the World Cup, but he seized the chance.
It’s important to note that Regragui wasn’t immediately under pressure to do well in Qatar; the sole expectation in his contract was to make it at least as far as the semifinals of the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations. The World Cup was formerly thought of as a bonus, but not anymore.
14 of the 26 players the manager called up weren’t Moroccan natives; several even competed at the young level for their native nations (Canada, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, and Italy) before deciding to play for their parents’ or grandparents’ country. The key to Regragui’s success has been his ability to bring these guys together and create a cohesive team.
Imran Louza and Amine Harit, two starters for Morocco, were injured prior to the tournament, which was a major setback. However, Regragui rallied the squad, identified the appropriate substitutes, and found answers.
His 4-3-3 defensive structure is sound, and his team is well-drilled with each player understanding his specific position. With only one goal allowed in five games, Morocco has the finest defense in the competition. They largely rely on Boufal and Ziyech when they have the ball. But they won’t make any changes since it works.