Sports

The academy where Morocco’s stars are born

By Fatima Zohra Bouaziz

Rabat, Dec 28 (EFE).- The Mohammed VI Football Academy near Rabat is already bearing fruit since its creation in 2009, and the recent success of the Morocco national team in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar provides further inspiration for the nation’s future stars.

Around 100 players between 12-18, most from humble backgrounds, are lucky enough to be selected for the five year course at one of Africa’s most pioneering academies, which combines conventional education and football.

The center is now gaining more international attention after some of its most famous graduates Azzedine Ounahi, Nayef Aguerd and Youssef En-Nesyri helped Morocco make history by becoming the first African and Arab nation to reach the World Cup semifinals.

Surrounded by farmland, the multi-million dollar academy was built across an area of 18 hectares and hosts modern football infrastructure including eight pitches — two with natural grass — medical facilities and student lodging.

The academy has the legal status of a non-profit association. It does not receive funds from the government but it counts on annual financial support from King Mohamed VI in addition to the contribution of various sponsors (Maroc Telecom, BMCE Bank and Wafa Assurance ) and what the school receives with “training costs” stipulated by FIFA with the sale of the players to professional clubs.

“This project is something the monarch holds very close,” an academy official tells Efe, adding that the center helped cement discipline after three decades of poor footballing results for Morocco.

The students have two hours of class that begin at 8am before they head out for training under the meticulous supervision of the academy’s staff.

They are split across the training grounds by age and depending on the drills they are to perform.

“Well done, young man!” shouts Abdellatif Hijjou, a goalkeeper trainer, after one of his students pulls off an impressive save.

In comments to Efe, the training staff are unanimous in their goals of shaping elite football players while also instilling a sense of identity and Moroccan values in the students.

“Once in the school, the students become our kids. We have the full confidence of their parents,” says Tarik el Khazri, a trainer and talent scout who spotted En-Nesyri in Fez and brought him to the academy.

According to Khazri, talent scouting is a very selective process carried out across the nation, whereby promising talents are monitored from a young age. By age 12, they are invited for trials at the academy itself.

Each May, the academy publishes a final list of 14 players and two goalkeepers who join the center’s five-year training course, which is divided into three categories infantile, cadets and junior.

Students are guaranteed accommodation, full board, excursions, as well as paid vacations.

“There are a total of eleven years of work between the detection of talents, observation in regional sports centers and training in the academy. A job that allows us to later see our footballers play in leagues in Spain and France or in the national team,” says Khazri, who adds that demand for academy places increased following Morocco’s success at the World Cup.

The academy is preparing to hold the U-19 graduate tournament in February, a showcase of the country’s future potential.

“I’m sure the clubs will fight over various promises from this group like Yassin Khalifi or Sadek Hossam,” says one of the coaches confidently.

fzb/jt/ch

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