Morocco Coach Skeptical World Cup Can Open Door To Europe

Morocco's head coach Walid Regragui is thrown in the air at the end of the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)
Morocco's head coach Walid Regragui is thrown in the air at the end of the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)
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DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Morocco coach Walid Regragui has guided his team to the World Cup quarterfinals — the first time an Arab nation has advanced that far in the tournament.

One might think that would be enough to get him linked to a top job in Europe.

Regragui isn't so sure, sounding skeptical Friday when asked if he is helping change perceptions about coaches from the region.

“This question is probably best asked to the European clubs: Why don’t they hire Arab coaches?” he said on the eve of Morocco’s match against Portugal. “Maybe it’s a cultural question. Maybe it’s a mentality."

“Today I think it’s impossible that Manchester City or Barcelona would bring an Arab coach. They won’t even think about it,” Regragui said through an interpreter.

“As if we’re not worthy, as if we’re ignorant in football or we’re incapable of such a test.”

Regragui spoke Friday just a few kilometers (miles) across Doha from a meeting of European soccer club leaders hosted by Paris Saint-Germain’s Qatari president, Nasser Al-Khelaïfi.

Man City and PSG are among among the most successful and wealthiest clubs in Europe. Both are owned and funded by Middle East sovereign wealth in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, respectively, and have never hired a coach from outside soccer's power bases of Europe and South America.

Man City’s owners in Abu Dhabi have hired three new coaches in 14 years, from Italy, Chile and Spain. In more than 11 years of Qatari ownership, PSG has hired coaches from France, Italy, Spain and Argentina.

Regragui was hired by the Morocco soccer federation in August after the France-born coach made his reputation guiding Wydad of Casablanca to win Africa’s Champions League last season. He also previously worked in Qatar.

“Ten years that I am a coach and nobody looked at me — ‘Ah, he doesn’t have any experience, he wants to go play in Europe,’ ’It’s impossible for him and let’s look for somebody else who can,” Regragui said.

That has changed in four games in Qatar guiding Morocco unbeaten through facing Spain, Croatia, Belgium and Canada.

“Explain to me how, explain to me this miracle,” he said in self-mocking comments, adding: “Experience doesn’t matter, it’s skills. Skills are the only measure.”

Regragui is part of a progressive wave at this World Cup with all five African teams led by coaches from their home country.

Historically, African countries which qualified for the World Cup have relied on importing coaches from European countries like France, Germany and Serbia. Host nation Qatar's team is coached by a Spaniard.

“African coaches with great results can actually show, statistically and mathematically, that at a certain point that this could happen,” Regragui said. “A lot of African coaches can actually coach in Europe and in great clubs.”

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