RABAT – Moroccan football giants Raja Casablanca finally ended a seven-year title drought after winning the Botola League on Sunday.
The three-time African champions now shift focus to the African Champions League on Sunday, where they face Egyptians Zamalek, who played second fiddle to glamour side Al Ahly in the just-ended season.
Ahly secured their 42nd title with seven games to go, leaving Zamalek to scramble for second best with Pyramids FC.
Raja are not the only Moroccan club getting ready to pursue continental success. In a historic feat, four Moroccan teams involved in the Champions League and the Confederations Cup all progressed to the semi-finals early in March.
Raja Casablanca elbowed out perennial contenders TP Mazembe of DRC after a 3-0 aggregate win. Wydad Athletic Club, Raja’s crosstown rivals, eliminated Etoile Sahel of Tunisia on a similar 3-0 aggregate score-line to book a place in the semi-final.
In the Confederations Cup, Sporting Renaissance of Berkane and Hassania of Agadir overcame Al-Masry of Egypt 3-1 on aggregate and Al-Nasr Benghazi of Libya 7-0 respectively.
Interestingly, the two Moroccan teams will meet in the two-legged semi-final.
Wydad are the only team from the North African country to have won the Champions League after the turn of the millennium, capturing it in 2017.
On the other hand, Moroccan teams have won the Confederations Cup four times since 2000. FAR Rabat were crowned champions in 2005, FUS Rabat in 2010, Moghreb Tetouan in 2011 and Raja Casablanca in 2017.
The flattering record reflects the efforts made to improve Moroccan football, under the impetus of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) and its accomplished president, Fouzi Lekjaa.
“In recent years there has been a willingness to change things, to turn professional. I've been playing in Morocco for just over a year and a half now and I think its league is one of the best in Africa,” explains Burkina Faso international Alain Traore. The former Monaco striker has been playing for Botola Pro club Berkane since 2018 after stints in Europe.
The success recorded by Moroccan clubs is derived from an ambitious sports policy and accountability mechanisms to ensure implementation.
After his election in 2014 as head of FRMF, Lekjaa, who is also director of the state budget and former president of the Sports Renaissance of Berkane, began to implement his program, which revolves around three key themes.
“First, take care of the infrastructure. That meant renovating stadiums or building new arenas, whether for professional or amateur clubs. And he put an end to synthetic pitches in order to impose natural turf. The president also asked that the clubs be structured at the administrative level and that they adopt a rigorous management policy,” explains Jamal Kouachi, a member of the FRMF steering committee.
Financial boost for clubs
As a spill-off from the robust sports policy, there was an improvement in the clubs’ financial status. The clubs were placed under the supervision of the National Control and Management Directorate, a model adopted from the French. The FRMF grants each League 1 club an annual subsidy of approximately $700 000.
“And those who take part in the African competitions receive financial aid from the federation for travel and accommodation,” Kouachi adds.
In addition, the FRMF recently gave US$100 000 to support the teams engaged in the continental cups.
In an unprecedented move, the FRMF in March chartered a plane to allow Raja Casablanca to travel to Lubumbashi in the best conditions ahead of their all-important clash with TP Mazembe. Raja returned home with the much-needed win.
The federation also decided to grant Moroccan clubs bonuses based on their performance on the national stage.
“Financially, the clubs are doing better. In most of them, salaries are paid on time, training conditions are improving. The general level is improving as well, Moroccan football is even more attractive and this attracts foreign players and coaches who help to improve it,” said Traoré earlier this year.