A year can make all the difference.
That has been the case for Walid Regragui, who has been at the forefront of Morocco’s darkhorse run to the 2022 FIFA World Cup semifinal, where a matchup against the 2018 defending champions France awaits.
Regragui, who was hired by the Moroccan Football Association on Aug. 31 just months before the tournament commenced, has seen his squad finish first in a Group F that comprised FIFA’s No. 2-ranked Belgium, 2018 runner-up Croatia and 2022 CONCACAF champion Canada.
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Then in the knockout stage, Morocco upset Spain and Portugal in the round of 16 and quarterfinals, respectively, to become the first African nation in history to reach the semifinal.
All journeys have a root, and Regragui’s stems from nearly a decade of coaching since he began with Fath Union Sport in Botola Pro 1, Morocco’s top-flight league, in 2014 after a playing career that lasted from 1998-2009.
Now, the manager is going viral not just for the results he’s seen his nation obtain but the work he’s done behind the scenes to get there.
Regragui was seen attending a virtual tactical session in 2021 done via Zoom by current Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, who was discussing his coaching philosophies and ideas that saw the Gunners lift the FA Cup title in 2020 in Arteta’s first time in a head managerial role.
At the time, Regragui was managing Wydad AC, also of Botola Pro 1, and now the 47-year-old manager is at the helm of one of the best World Cup stories ever.
Shortly after the photo made the rounds on social media, Arteta lauded Regragui after Arsenal’s 2-1 win over AC Milan in the Dubai Super Cup on Tuesday.
“The impact he’s having, he’s a total credit to them,” Arteta said. “What he is doing is amazing, and what he is transmitting is great. And it’s a really positive thing for world football to have an African team at the stage. They’re one of four very select teams in this World Cup.”
In a press conference leading up to the match against Les Bleus, Regragui also discussed playstyles between African and Arab nations compared to European nations that are now evolving.
Regragui, whose tactics have drawn comparisons to Jose Mourinho (of Portugal and a former Manchester United and Chelsea manager) and who has learned under Arteta (of Spain), has shown he can lead his nation to play the way most European giants do. And it also lines up that he guided his team to victory over the home nations of the two aforementioned managers.
Now he’ll be going up against Didier Deschamps and France for a chance at adding to the already-historic run the Atlas Lions have achieved in Qatar. If they win, they would face Lionel Messi and Argentina in the final.