Following his historic World Cup run when he led the Atlas Lions to the semi-finals, Walid Regragui made history again as the very first Arab and African coach to be nominated for the Men’s World Best Club Coach 2022 title, an award given to football managers with significant achievements.
How Regragui Became The Atlas Lion’s Beacon Of Hope
Regragui’s story and journey with the national team went beyond achieving the impossible on the soccer field. According to FIFA, Regragui “united everyone, brought stability to the dressing room, and repaired the cracks in the team that had formed prior to his arrival.” He wasn’t always the coach of Morocco’s national team as his predecessor, Bosnian coach, Vahid Halidhodzic was the one who led the Atlas Lions but he did not lead them to victory. The Bosnian coach was considered responsible for the team’s poor performance and inadvertently for breaking the national team apart because of ongoing feuds between him and several star players including Hakim Ziyech who ended up quitting the team.
Things took a turn for the better in August when Halidhodiz was fired and replaced by Regragui only three months before the World Cup. It was an unexpected choice as most African teams shoot for a European coach during World Cup season but Morocco went with their former player instead, knowing that his defense-first style could lead the team to victory.
When he joined the Atlas Lions, it was a time when the team was fragmented with most players including Ziyech no longer playing for the team. Morale was at an all-time low and the team itself which was made up of Moroccan-born players and ones from the wider diaspora was not united. “Before this World Cup, we had a lot of problems with the guys born in Europe and the guys born in Morocco,” Regragui admitted.
With Regragui himself born outside of Morocco, he had the advantage of being able to reach out to both sides and bring them together into a united front. His ongoing mantra that helped to push the team forward was that “every Moroccan is a Moroccan” and with that, he was able to mold the scattered diaspora into a cohesive team, one where each team member played for the other. He was also able to bring back Ziyech to once again play for the team and from there, the Atlas Lions began their successful World Cup journey.
Walid Regragui’s Victorious Tactical Style
To everyone watching the games, it was understood that Morocco’s defense tactics were in full force. Throughout the matches, the team’s progress was built on fearless defending where they only conceded once when Canada scored a goal during the group stage game, a game that Morocco won with a score of 2-1.
Regragui knew that placing emphasis on creating a strong defense force in the back was a strategy that reaped many rewards. A great example is that of Morocco’s Round 16 historic game with Portugal when the Atlas Lions worked together to form a defensive rectangle-shaped block that would shift from side to side to evade any attempt made by the Spanish team from reaching the goal. Aerial footage was taken to show the effective defense strategy during the game:
When it came to their historic quarterfinal match with Portugal, the Atlas Lions pushed back even harder knowing that they were facing a team that already scored 12 goals up until that match. Before the match took off, the Atlas Lions lost their center back Nayef Aguerd but the game picked up when Jawad El Yamiq took his place and played alongside skipper Romain Saiss, pushing forth with tackles and blocking out every attempt from Portugal at reaching the goal. With that, they made history as the first Arab and African team to make it to the World Cup semi-finals.
Today, despite their patchy and rough start, the team stands tall, head high with pride for what they and coach Regragui were able to accomplish. They achieved what no other Arab or African team was able to accomplish and will forever be remembered across the region and the world at large.