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Mustapha Hadji about to play for Coventry City

Mustapha Hadji: Morocco’s Master Midfielder

Mustapha Hadji, the former Morocco midfielder, scored one of the World Cup tournament’s most memorable goals in France in 1998.

As part of its ambassadorial program for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, the South Africa Soccer Association announced four players. Pele, George Weah, and Roger Milla were also present. Mustapha Hadji explained to us at the History Of Soccer offices that he was pleased about his selection. The fact that they picked me is heartwarming, even though there are so many good players in Africa.

Mustapha Hadji, the older brother of Nancy striker Youssouf, is regarded as one of the greatest soccer players in Moroccan history. He scored 13 goals in total for his country. After retiring from the international game, he continued his love for soccer by playing for Fola Esch in the Luxembourg league. In his last three seasons at Fola Esch, he scored 25 goals in only 44 appearances to wind up a wonderful playing career. Despite reaching the top of world soccer for 19 years, the 1998 African Footballer of the Year continues to give back to the beautiful game.

Where It Started

Mustapha Hadji started in the French Ligue 1 with Nancy and has since been associated with Sporting Lisbon, Deportivo La Coruna, Coventry City, Aston Villa, and Saarbrucken before receiving a transfer to Saarbrucken in Germany. While the gifted Moroccan has never been able to collect the trophies and accolades his skills perhaps deserved, Mustapha Hadji has no regrets about his colorful career.

At the 1994 World Cup in the USA, Mustapha Hadji rose to prominence. It was a decisive moment in his life. In 1999, Hadji was 22 years old and just finished his first season in the second division with Nancy, having renounced his French citizenship 12 months earlier.

Mustapha Hadji mentioned there was too much competition with Les Bleus. “While I had made my career in France, Morocco had always held a special place in my heart,” Hadji says. Even 26 years after his American adventure, Hadji has never forgotten its significance in his soccer education.

It was a different world, a different game than what I was used to. I was 22, and I had the chance to play in a tournament as big as the World Cup at the age of 22. It is not something everyone gets to do.”

The Move To Portugal

Sporting Lisbon enticed Mustapha Hadji to Portugal after failing to establish a rapport with Nancy coach Laszlo Boloni upon returning to eastern France. My first real soccer experience was playing in front of 60,000 fans and training with 3 or 4,000 people. It was an exciting experience because I had to prove myself in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language. I was incredibly determined.”

After achieving that, Mustapha Hadji obtained further exposure at the highest level when he joined Deportivo La Coruna, one of the leading forces in La Liga at the time. In the midst of some of the best players worldwide, Hadji was placed in charge of the midfield. The time I spent there was a step up for me, and, and I learned a lot as almost half of the World Cup-winning Brazilian squad was in this side”.

Morocco’s inexorable rise continued with Mustapha Hadji’s electric goal against Norway in the opening group game of the 1998 World Cup. I scored while running for more than 60 meters with the ball at my feet. It was one of my most exciting goals for the national team, as there was the overhead kick I scored against Egypt in the African Cup of Nations that year, which put us in the quarterfinals.”

Mustapha Hadji Experience Of England

Even though Mustapha Hadji’s wonder goal was not enough to help Morocco advance beyond the first round, he was now being courted by a handful of English clubs. The first club he joined was Coventry City, followed by Aston Villa, where he made quite an impact. According to Hadji, the Premier League is a different planet. Visiting England should be on every player’s bucket list. Soccer is a religion there, and families go and watch games together on Sundays. I remember how people used their Christmas money to buy tickets on Boxing Day. You can tell that English fans love their teams.”

Mustapha Hadji has kept busy since he retired from football. Along with his ambassadorial duties, he also plays beach soccer for the FIFA world team. In addition, he continues to provide expert analysis on Moroccan television during the African Cup of Nations, the UEFA Champions League, and the English Premier League starting next year.

In 2012, he became assistant manager at Umm Salal for a few years before becoming assistant to the Moroccan national team. Mustapha Hadji then got involved in a partnership with plans to invest in Morocco, providing local people with job opportunities and helping to rid his country of poverty.

Hadji’s connection to the game is as strong as ever, with two sons attending French football academies, one at Nancy and the other at Metz.

He was ranked 50th on the list of the greatest African players of all time.

Mustapha Hadji

Position: Attacking midfield

Clubs:

  • AS Nancy-Lorraine (1991-1996)
  • Sporting Clube de Portugal (1996-1997)
  • Deportivo la Coruna (1997-1999)
  • Coventry City FC (1999-2001)
  • Aston Villa FC (2001-2004)
  • RCD Espanyol (2004)
  • Al Emirates Ras Al-Khaima (2004-2005)
  • FC Sarrebruck (2005-2007)
  • Fola Esch (2007-2010)

National Team: 54 caps (13 goals)

Honors:

  • African player of the year (1998)
  • Portuguese Cup (1996)
  • Two-time participant at the World Cup (1994, 1998)

Main Image: The Athletic

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