Following a successful year, Benjamin Hajji of Maghrib Foot presents the 50 best Moroccan footballers of 2018.
What a tremendous year it’s been for everyone who loves Moroccan football. It all started with Badr Benoun lifting the African Nations Championship trophy in Casablanca as the local national team beat Nigeria 4-0 in the final. Wydad Athletic then followed up by winning the CAF Super Cup against TP Mazembe after a glorious free-kick from Amine Tighazoui.
Durig the summer, Morocco returned to their first World Cup in 20 years. Despite positive displays in all three games, they went out in the group-stage following narrow defeats to Iran and Portugal, but secured a memorable 2-2 draw against Spain. Continentally, we had Raja Casablanca winning the CAF Confederations Cup, five clubs qualify for the 18/19 CAF competitions, as well as securing a spot in next year’s Africa Cup of Nations.
So who have been standing out in 2018? This is a list highlighting the best Moroccan footballers of the past year, based on a number of criteria (performance, importance for their team, achievements). Despite the number of players included, we’ll still have several notable names omitted and I’m sure people will be disappointed not to see some of their favorites listed.
But without further ado, let’s jump right into it:
50. Mostafa Abdellaoue (ATT 30, Strømsgodset 🇳🇴)
A prolific goalscorer for years in the Norwegian league, Abdellaoue had a difficult start to the year at new club Strømsgodset. The cousin of Olympiacos’ Omar Elabdellaoui was usually placed on the bench, replacing former Vitesse striker Marcus Pedersen towards the end of games. But the last four months have been quite incredible, with “Mos” almost single-handedly securing the club’s survival after scoring six goals in the last seven games of Eliteserien. In the last two rounds against relegation rivals Lillestrøm and Stabæk, he scored a brace in both, narrowly escaping the bottom. In the national cup Strømsgodset went all the way to the final against Rosenborg, as Abdellaoue finished topscorer of the tournament with eight goals, netting a hattrick in the semi-final.
49. Yahya Jabrane (MID 27, Dibba Al-Fujairah 🇦🇪)
The unsung hero of Hassania Agadir’s brilliant 17/18 season, where they conceded only 22 goals from 30 league games and finished second in Botola, only one point behind champions Ittihad Tanger. Jabrane was working as a shield in-front of the defense, allowing guys like Jalal Daoudi and Abdelali Khanboubi to go forward. He earned a move to Dibba Al-Fujairah in the UAE this summer, where the former futsal international has been one of few bright lights for the club so far this season. One of several on this list that was part of the African Nations Championship victory in February.
48. Othman El Kabir (MID 27, Ural 🇷🇺)
A late bloomer, El Kabir didn’t play professionally until he was 25, when Swedish club Djurgården signed him to play in the Allsvenskan. In March he left to Russia and Yekaterinburg for €600k but did manage to collect a Swedish cup medal in the process. For Ural he scored three goals during his first ten league games and caused loads of trouble for opponents, usually cutting inside onto his preferred right foot. He’s been more anonymous this season but is still a regular for a club chasing European qualifiers.
47. Aatif Chahechouhe (ATT 32, Fenerbahçe 🇹🇷)
The French-born winger has always struggled with inconsistency and this year has been no different. He’s currently suspended at Fenerbahçe alongside fellow countryman Nabil Dirar after falling out with leaders at the club and is destined for a move in January. But the four-month spell towards the end of last season under Aykut Kocaman was fantastic, where he scored five goals as Fener won all of their last eight games in Süper Lig. One of the players who came close to a spot in the World Cup squad.
46. Yassin Ayoub (MID 24, Feyenoord 🇳🇱)
The all-rounded midfielder was the creative force at FC Utrecht alongside fellow Moroccan, Zakaria Labyad, last season. He was subsequently called up to the national team in March for the first time, but wasn’t able to play due to injury. This probably ended Ayoub’s chances of playing in the World Cup, but it didn’t stop him from joining Dutch powerhouse, Feyenoord, on a free transfer. In Rotterdam he has yet to start a game in Eredivise and doesn’t seem to get along with manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst according to local reports. But one goal and two assists is not a bad result for a player with about 100 minutes under his belt.
45. Abdellah Zoubir (ATT 27, Qarabağ 🇦🇿)
“I do not care about Lens, it’s only a stepping stone for my career. I can easily sign for a Ligue 1 club in the summer.” Abdellah Zoubir made some harsh statements in the spring and was also accused of making death threats to several fans of the club, which resorted to him leaving in July for one million euros. But instead of joining a club in the French top-flight, the tricky winger moved to Azerbaijan and Qarabağ. That hasn’t worked out too bad and this season he’s been one of the best players in the Premyer Liqasi, scoring four goals in the league so far. In the Europa League, he put on a show against Arsenal and scored their only goal against Sporting CP. When he wants to, Zoubir is a great footballer. Question is if he wants it enough.
44. Omar El Kaddouri (MID 28, PAOK 🇬🇷)
Before suffering a thigh injury in February, El Kaddouri was expected to be called up to Morocco’s friendlies ahead of the World Cup. Instead he had to watch at home, but came back highly motivated and scored a brilliant goal against Basel in the Champions League qualifiers back in August, while cementing his place in PAOK’s starting line-up. This fall he’s played in the Europa League and can also boast about a Greek cup trophy, which they won by beating AEK in the final.
43. Ahmed Hammoudan (ATT 27, Al-Raed 🇸🇦)
Named Player of the Season for his contribution during Ittihad Tanger’s title-run, Hammoudan was linked with a move to Real Betis at some point in late spring. He was a constant threat for the opposing defense and despite not scoring that many goals, his presence made IRT a terrifying counter-attacking side which saw them eventually lifting their first ever Botola title. But instead of challenging himself in Europe, he ended up joining Saudi club, Al-Raed, on a loan-deal. Despite playing regularly and scoring three goals so far this season, you’d hope for him to make more of an impact than he has.
42. Mbark Boussoufa (MID 34, Free agent)
The legendary midfield maestro is still of such quality that it’s a shame not being able to place him higher, but when he has yet to represent a club since May, we don’t have much choice. His great international performances leading up to the World Cup showed his importance and despite an underwhelming showing in Russia, Boussoufa’s quality is indisputable. Chances of seeing him play again are getting slimmer by the day and this will probably be the first and last time he’s featuring on the Maghrib Foot Top 50.
41. Mourad Batna (ATT 28, Al-Wahda 🇦🇪)
The former FUS Rabat talisman has been on fire in the UAE Gulf League since arriving last summer. Scored two goals from three games in the group-stage of the AFC Champions League back in February and this season he started off with seven goals and four assists from only six league games. Since then he’s slowed off a little, with tough competition from Sebastián Tagliabúe and Leonardo, but the former international still deserves a place well within top 50 this year.
40. Nayef Aguerd (DEF 22, Dijon 🇫🇷)
One of several products emerging from the Mohammed VI Academy in recent years, Aguerd quickly established himself as one of the better centre-backs in the Moroccan league at FUS Rabat, under the guidance of former international defender, Walid Regragui. After a successful African Nations Championship, French side Dijon quickly showed their interest and a transfer worth around €1,6mill was settled in the summer. He made his official international debut in September and scored on his Ligue 1 debut against Nice. Injuries has set him back a little, but we’ll certainly be watching the tall Kénitra native closely in 2019.
39. Marwane Saadane (DEF 26, Çaykur Rizespor 🇹🇷)
Saadane is one of those players who probably don’t get the praise he deserves. He was an integral part of his club’s promotion to Süper Lig, where they kept eight clean sheets between January and May. This season he’s scored two goals from centre-back and also featured on the Turkish Team of the Week. Rizespor currently sit bottom of the table, but his performances over the last year is still enough to defend a spot on this list.
38. Abdelilah Hafidi (MID 26, Raja Club Athletic 🇲🇦)
The fact that Hafidi is still plying his trade in Morocco, might be one of the biggest scandals out there. The injury problems are still a big issue, but when fit he’s the best player in Botola by a mile. With his delightful right-foot, the Raja product can create danger out of nowhere and has such an ability to find space between the lines that you rarely see on the continent. Instrumental to RCA’s CAF Confederations Cup run and was deservedly called up for the friendly against Tunisia in November.
37. Nabil Dirar (DEF 32, Fenerbahçe 🇹🇷)
I am probably one of Nabil Dirar’s biggest admirers, so placing him as low 37th does hurt. But 2018 has just not been his year. Played regularly for Fenerbahçe last season, only to suffer a calf injury towards the end which ruled him out of Morocco’s preparatory friendlies for the World Cup. He played against Portugal and Spain in Russia, as well as AFCON qualifiers against Malawi and Comoros during the fall, but has not looked like his old self since the summer. Suspended in Süper Lig by his club and is nearing a move to Belgian football by the looks of it.
36. Moestafa El Kabir (ATT 30, Ankaragücü 🇹🇷)
His stay at Antalyaspor was miserable, with unpaid wages and fans criticizing his weight. A loan move to Sweden seemed to do wonders in terms of getting some confidence back and this season he’s been one of the best forwards in Turkey, scoring six goals for Ankaragücü in thirteen games. Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Besiktas have all conceded to the Targuist-born Dutch-Moroccan and if he can keep this up, he might even be a candidate for Africa Cup of Nations next summer.
35. Aschraf El Mahdioui (MID 22, Trenčín 🇸🇰)
Leaving ADO Den Haag on a free transfer last summer, El Mahdioui has really come to life in Slovakia. After a great first season he’s now the captain of the team, dictating the play from his holding midfield position and dominated in the Europa League qualifiers where they shocked Feyenoord by winning 5-1 on aggregate. Unfortunately Trenčín’s results have drastically worsened, suffering nine defeats and one draw in their last ten league games. But despite a disappointing team effort, El Mahdioui is certainly a guy to look out for, with his physical presence, vision and passing skills.
34. Mimoun Mahi (ATT 24, Groningen 🇳🇱)
With more than 100 games in the Eredivisie under his belt, people tend to forget that Mimoun Mahi is still only 24 years of age. He scored on his international debut against Mali last year, but was not selected to any of the games ahead of the World Cup after as his form dropped towards the end of the season with some injury niggles in the process. But now the clinical attacker seems to be back in business, flourishing as one of two strikers in Danny Buijs’ 4-4-2 system. Five goals and four assists in the last seven league games are impressive numbers and hopefully there’s even more to come from Mahi.
33. Zakaria Labyad (ATT 25, Ajax 🇳🇱)
Following some turbulent years in Portugal, it was great to see Labyad reminding everyone of his qualities last season as he lead Utrecht to the Europa League play-offs, being directly involved in 29 goals in all competitions. This earned him his first international appearance in five years as he got 45 minutes against Uzbekistan in March. A €6mill move to Ajax was settled in the summer, where he’s scored three goals from two cup games and tried to make an impact coming off the bench in the league. Still work to be done for the 25-year-old to earn a place in their starting line-up, especially as he’s been deployed on the wing rather than a preferred role in the middle.
32. Sofyan Amrabat (MID 22, Club Brugge 🇧🇪)
It’s been a hectic year for the youngest Amrabat brother. He only started three Eredivisie games for Feyenoord in the second half of last season and was sold for only €2.5mill in the summer. In Russia he played 14 minutes, only to make the free-kick which eventually led to Aziz Bouhaddouz’ own-goal against Iran. But the holding midfielder has finally bounced back and is now a regular in Club Brugge, impressing in their last to group-games in the Champions League against Borussia Dortmund and Atlético Madrid. Manager Ivan Leko called Amrabat his “gangster on the field” and in December he scored his first goal for the club against Standard Liége. With both a Dutch Cup and Supercup trophy under his belt, it’s been an acceptable year overall for the Utrecht product.
31. Mohammed Rharsalla (ATT 25, Slovan Bratislava 🇸🇰)
This man is one to keep an eye on. Arrived from Ukrainian football in January and won the Slovakian cup after a few months at Slovan Bratislava, racking up several man of the match awards in the process. This season the winger born in Oujda has scored 11 goals and provided 13 assists in the Fortuna Liga and Europa League qualifiers combined. That’s 24 goal contributions in just 23 games, where several of these have been “goal of the month”-contenders. If he can keep this going, Moha could be destined for a big move next summer.
30. Walid Azaro (ATT 23, Al Ahly 🇪🇬)
Long tipped to be the next big striker for the national team, Azaro took the Egyptian league by storm and became top goalscorer in his first season for Al Ahly. An injury kept him out of the squad in Russia, to the frustration of many, and when a transfer to China fell apart, we expected to see him manifest himself as the goalscoring king of African club competitions. But Azaro has struggled to find back to old form this season and it’s currently been months since his last goal for the Egyptian giants. His mind seems to be elsewhere and a transfer in January could be a healthy solution.
29. Mahmoud Benhalib (ATT 22, Raja Club Athletic 🇲🇦)
12 goals in this year’s CAF Confederations Cup is nothing short of extraordinary and deserves recognition. It’s even more impressive when noting that Raja didn’t take part in the preliminary rounds and the fact that Benhalib was placed on the bench in several games. With his unpredictable take-ons and intelligent movement, combined with almost too much confidence, the young attacker deserves more praise than he gets at the moment. The tense relationship with manager Juan Carlos Garrido is still existent and he was recently degraded to the reserves for reportedly faking an injury in the game against Enyimba – an image which hurts his opportunities elsewhere. Egyptian club Al Ahly are said to be curious on him and a move away could be healthy for all parties.
28. Sofiane Boufal (MID 25, Celta Vigo 🇪🇸)
When his head is at the right place, few players are more delightful to watch than Sofiane Boufal. He started the year in poor fashion, falling out with manager Mark Hughes and was degraded to the reserves at Southampton. This ultimately resulted in his exclusion from the World Cup, despite a solid 45 minutes against Uzbekistan. Looking back in hindsight, we did miss his ability to change the game in Russia and it was great seeing Boufal return to the national team in November, with positive performances against Cameroon and Tunisia. Currently on loan at Celta Vigo, he’s started eight games in LaLiga so far, scoring twice. The goal against Sevilla was absolutely genius and we’ll hope for similar moments in 2019.
27. Abderrazak Hamdallah (ATT 28, Al-Nassr 🇸🇦)
Another year gone, another year of Hamdallah scoring goals. “The Hunter” is still only 28 years of age but it feels like he’s been banging them in for a life-time now. He scored three goals in the AFC Champions League group-stage and then ten goals from nine games in the Qatar Super League for Al-Rayyan before fracturing his ankle in April. But a serious injury didn’t scare Saudi giants Al-Nassr from taking a chance on the Olympique Safi product. Hamdallah now has seven goals from ten league games after scoring four in just 47 minutes against Al-Raed in mid-December. The man grows older, but the goals keep on coming. Only regret would be that we’ll probably never get to see him in one of Europe’s top leagues.
26. Hamza Mendyl (DEF 21, Schalke 🇩🇪)
One of the most heavily debated players among Moroccan football fans this year. He needs to improve in a number of aspects, but what Mendyl always provides is loads of energy, tireless runs and hard tackles, and it’s clear that Hervé Renard has a lot of faith in the erratic left-back. He was one of Morocco’s best players in friendlies leading up to the World Cup and despite only playing a handful of games for Lille, he was reportedly details away from a move to Arsenal in the summer. Instead Mendyl ended up at Schalke where he’s been trusted both in Bundesliga and the Champions League. A recurring ankle issue has set him back, but both Domenico Tedesco and the mentioned Renard seem to see a lot of potential in the Mohammed VI Academy graduate.
25. Rachid Alioui (ATT 26, Nimes 🇫🇷)
The man with the brilliant game-winner against Ivory Coast in AFCON has never looked better. A knee injury towards the end of last season unfortunately ruled him out of the World Cup, which was a shame as I personally think he could’ve been that confident striker we needed back then. After 17 goals in Ligue 2, 11 of those in the latter part, Alioui made the Team of the Season as Nimes achieved promotion to the French top-flight. In Ligue 1 he’s only started once, but already found the back of the net four times, making a huge difference off the bench. If he continues this form, we’ll probably see the French-Moroccan back with the national team come March.
24. Youssef Aït Bennasser (MID 22, Monaco 🇫🇷)
Not everyone’s cup of tea, but a personal favorite of mine. Aït Bennasser has a calmness in his play that few others can show for at his age. Was a regular on loan at Caen last season and has been a trusted man in Hervé Renard’s squads, figuring both in midfield and centre-back. This season has been a tough one at Monaco, currently fighting to avoid relegation, but he’s gaining valuable experience under lots of pressure and have been one of the better players under Thierry Henry’s leadership when fit. One of the big concerns with the Aït Bennasser is his injuries, often missing games because of minor issues with his knees and hamstring. Can he get rid of those struggles, he’ll become a great midfielder.
23. Manuel Da Costa (DEF 32, Basaksehir 🇹🇷)
An old-school defender, Da Costa has struggled to convince Moroccans fans with the national team, where Renard’s style of play doesn’t seem to suit him. He looks shaky on the ball and uncomfortable with the high defensive line. However, with ambitious club Istanbul Basaksehir, the Portuguese-Moroccan has emerged as one of the better centre-backs in the Süper Lig. He’s kept seven clean sheets in eleven league games, even scoring three times from set-pieces, as Basaksehir sit comfortably on top of the table.
22. Younès Belhanda (MID 28, Galatasaray 🇹🇷)
How is Belhanda still only 28!? It feels like he’s been around for ages, making his international debut eight years ago… In May he could lift the Turkish league trophy and for Morocco he was probably one of our best players this past year. But Galatasaray fans are not satisfied with the former Montpellier star, who still produces way too few goals from his offensive midfield position. This season Belhanda has yet to score in thirteen games, was sent off for a reckless tackle which got him suspended for three games and is now out with a thigh injury suffered during the international break in November. It’s not been the best fall, but his great display in the World Cup combined with Süper Lig victory, he’ll slot in at 22nd place.
21. Khalid Boutaïb (ATT 31, Yeni Malatyaspor 🇹🇷)
Big, strong and tall, Boutaïb is one of Renard’s most trusted men in the national team. Personally, I’ve yet to be convinced, but there’s no doubt that he fits the profile of a striker with decent hold-up play, good in the air and lots of defensive contribution. In Turkey Boutaïb has struggled to find the net for quite some time, but he did pop up with two goals against Antalyaspor only recently. And how can we forget the memorable goal against Spain? «Zid khoya, zid, hiya gol, hiya gol!!»
20. Mehdi Bourabia (MID 27, Sassuolo 🇮🇹)
A breakout year in many ways for the French-born midfielder, coming from a great season in Turkey with Konyaspor and now being part of a Sassuolo side fighting for a spot in Europe. Bourabia is a box-to-box player with a big engine who covers a lot of ground and provides a strong physical presence in the middle. This season he’s been in and out of the team, with guys like Stefano Sensi, Alfred Duncan, Filip Djuricic and Manuel Locatelli in his position, but nine starts is certainly not bad figures in his first few months. Got his international debut this year as well, with a couple of minutes against Comoros in October.
19. Youssef En-Nesyri (ATT 21, Leganés 🇪🇸)
He still has a long way to go, but in 2018 we’ve come to discover that Youssef En-Nesyri possesses bags of potential. One of the most ahletically dominant players out there, the Mohammed VI Academy graduate wins almost every single ball in the air, regardless of the center-back he’s up against. The bullet-header against Spain in Russia was just one of many examples. His five internationals goals this year is quite spectacular for a 21-year-old, especially considering he only started in three games. En-Nesyri has now fought himself into the line-up at Leganés and will hopefully continue to develop into a top-class centre-forward.
18. Amine Harit (MID 21, Schalke 🇩🇪)
My kind of player. Still only 21, very few players in the world are better between defensive lines than this boy. His body-feints are an absolute joy to watch and despite not being the quickest, he usually drives through the midfield with the ball glued to his feet. Was awarded with Rookie of the Season award in Bundesliga back in May, although that was mostly for his performances in the latter part of 2017. He was also named Man of the Match against Iran in the World Cup, but from then on we didn’t see Harit in Russia. The problem for him is mostly the endeavours off the field. Both Renard and Schalke manager Tedesco have been publicly critical of the offensive midfielder for showing up late to training and meetings, resulting in unnecessarily many games on the bench for a player with his qualities. The horrible traffic-incident in Marrakech during the summer has surely not helped and for all we know, he might still struggle with the aftermath of that whole case.
17. Karim El Ahmadi (MID 33, Al-Ittihad 🇸🇦)
The benchmark for future midfielders in the national team. I don’t think people will realize El Ahmadi’s importance to the Atlas Lions until he’s retired. Probably the most consistent player we’ve had for the last decade and even in the World Cup, he stepped up as one of few impressive individuals. Won both the Dutch Cup and Supercup before leaving to Saudi Arabia. That’s been a dark chapter so far, with Al-Ittihad sitting bottom of the league and captain El Ahmadi receiving criticism for not “scoring enough goals”, like that was ever his job in the first place…
16. Nabil El Zhar (ATT 32, Leganés 🇪🇸)
One of the biggest topics regarding Renard’s World Cup squad, was the exclusion of Nabil El Zhar. The 32-year-old was tearing LaLiga apart at Legánes, with a number of man of the match performances and a lovely goal against Barcelona. But the national team manager was not convinced, saying that El Zhar didn’t suit his set-up. But the former Liverpool winger kept his head up, scoring a brace against Real Sociedad in the beginning of the season, as well as another goal against Barça. At some point, however, something must have happened in the Leganés dressing room, as he was suddenly dropped to the bench. Needs to get back into the starting line-up quickly if he wants to have any chance of making it to AFCON.
15. Youssef El Arabi (ATT 31, Al-Duhail 🇶🇦)
No year without the former futsal international scoring for fun, right? 38 goals in all competitions during this calendar year is nothing short of extraordinary, but for El Arabi it’s become a routine. Starting off as a link-up striker who’d feed the ball to wingers, he’s now a true goal poacher, always finding himself in the right place to the right time inside the box. He’s obviously not getting any younger, but you still can’t help thinking that the Caen native should’ve stayed in Europe after his spell at Granada to get the best out of his career.
14. Munir (KEE 29, Málaga 🇪🇸)
The resurrection! Munir seemed trapped at Numancia, not even getting a chance to prove himself, but was still trusted by Renard in the World Cup. A great performance against Iran especially, earned him a move to Málaga, where he’s now an integral part of a side fighting for promotion, even winning a few individual awards along the way. His reactions and shot-stopping abilities are great, but he still needs to work on his aerial actions and ball control.
13. Noussair Mazraoui (DEF 21, Ajax 🇳🇱)
The revelation! Never looked upon as a big talent, Mazraoui burst onto the scene towards the end of last season, playing the last three Eredivisie games – in THREE different positions! He’s extremely versatile, but has been settling down nicely at right-back, proving himself as one of the most talented players in his position at the moment. Quick, confident on the ball and with lots of energy, he gives Ajax another dimension in attack. Therefore, it was great to see Mazraoui getting his debut for the Atlas Lions against Malawi in September, ending speculations regarding his international future.
12. Ayoub El Kaabi (ATT 25, Hebei CFFC 🇨🇳)
The fairytale! When the African Nations Championship kicked off in January, few people had heard of Ayoub El Kaabi. But one month, nine goals and a MVP award later, he was on everyone’s radar. The man who only became a professional footballer less than two years ago continued on the mouthwatering goalscoring-run, scoring six goals in eight CAF Confederations Cup games, as RS Berkane advanced from the group-stage. He consequently made the squad to Russia as the only outfield player from the local league and was sold to Hebei China Fortune for a record-amount in the summer. But after a decent start of five goals in the first nine games, El Kaabi lost his spot in the team and with a restriction of only three foreigners in the matchday squad, it won’t be easy competing with the likes of Javier Mascherano, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Hernanes.
11. Yunis Abdelhamid (DEF 31, Reims 🇫🇷)
The face of Reims’ Ligue 2 winning side, which racked up 88 points and only conceded 24 goals from 38 league games. Abdelhamid made the Team of the Season and took his good form into the top-flight, where Reims have kept a clean sheet in nine games during the first half of the season. With 190 centimeters, he wins everything in the air and has a commanding presence which seems to give confidence to the whole back-line. Definitely a man to consider for Hervé Renard in the upcoming year, although his limited abilities in possession could work against him.
10. Romain Saïss (DEF 28, Wolverhampton 🇬🇧)
A defensive midfielder for his club side, Saïss has been doing brilliantly at centre-back for the national team over the last few years. His accurate left-foot and ability to read the play is a big part of Renard’s game-plan, with Benatia figuring as the leader next to him. After promotion to the English top-flight, Nuno Espírito Santo decided to go with fellow countrymen Rúben Neves and João Moutinho in midfield, which seemed very unfair to Saïss who never really did anything to lose his spot. But in the latter games of the year, the French-Moroccan has taken his chances and scored the equalizer against Fulham on boxing day – his first ever Premier League goal.
9. Fayçal Fajr (MID 30, Caen 🇫🇷)
The clown of the dressing room. Including Fajr in the World Cup squad was widely discussed after his mediocre season at Getafe, but his importance to the group is undervalued. Now he’s performing on the field as well, starting in all five games since Russia and has filled Boussoufa’s role in impressive fashion. Returning to Caen has definitely done him well, where the 30-year-old has been one of the better players in Ligue 1. Should play a big role in the AFCON next summer.
8. Oussama Idrissi (ATT 22, AZ Alkmaar 🇳🇱)
His international future has still not been officially decided, but everything is pointing towards the red jersey of Morocco for Oussama Idrissi – and what an addition he would be. 18 goals and 13 assists in all competitions are the stats for the 22-year-old during his time at AZ Alkmaar. He’s been directly involved in 10 more goals than any other of his teammates, which tells you a lot about the year he’s had. With his “route one” style of play, he will be an excellent option for Renard, especially when taking a counter-attacking approach.
7. Mehdi Carcela (MID 29, Standard Liège 🇧🇪)
The golden boy of Liège. His five goals and nine assists during the last months of the 17/18, sent his side to the Europa League qualifiers and Carcela to the World Cup. And although he never seems to impress with the national team, the performances he’s put in for Standard has been more than you could ever expect. This season has been no different, with six goals and five assists in all competitions. A wonderful player on his day, but someone who seemingly needs a safe and familiar environment to perform.
6. Nasser El Khayati (MID 29, ADO Den Haag 🇳🇱)
One of the most underrated players in world football at the moment. Nasser El Khayati has stood out as the talisman of ADO Den Haag, scoring twelve and assisting five goals in only 16 league games this season. That’s third best in the Eredivisie, only behind strikers Fran Sol and Luuk de Jong. For an attacking midfielder who also puts in a shift defensively, the numbers are astonishing. But it’s been a long road for El Khayati, playing in the Dutch Derde Divisie with Kozakken Boys only four years ago. After a decent spell in England and Burton Albion, he took ADO by storm and is now making a claim for a spot in the Moroccan national team – and how can you really argue it?
5. Yassine Bounou (KEE 27, Girona 🇪🇸)
After earning promotion to the Primera División with Girona in 2017, Yassine Bounou has established himself as one of the most prominent shot-stoppers in the Spanish top-flight. This season he’s among the goalkeepers with the most saves and has saved points for his club on numerous occasions. Serving as second-choice to Munir in the national team during the World Cup, it seems like Renard has finally been convinced of Bounou’s qualities and that he’ll be the go-to goalkeeper when AFCON kicks off.
4. Achraf Hakimi (DEF 20, Dortmund 🇩🇪)
Morocco’s little diamond. We’ve all been aware of Hakimi’s potential but it wasn’t until he moved on loan to Dortmund that we got to really see his qualities. Won the Champions League with Real Madrid in May and was a regular for the Atlas Lions in Russia. This season he’s been a revelation in Bundesliga as Lucien Favre’s side are topping the league midway through. The Germans want the 20-year-old permanently, but they’ll have a tough task of convincing Florentino Pérez and the guys at Santiago Bernabéu.
3. Nordin Amrabat (ATT 31, Al-Nassr 🇸🇦)
Probably the biggest sports personality in North Africa after his memorable World Cup, Amrabat has (literally) battled himself into the hearts of the Moroccan people. With a unique personality and fighting spirit, he caught most by surprise when annihilating Portugal in Moscow and few will forget the legendary “VAR is bullshit” phrase after the match against Spain. He’s never been the best in terms of sheer skill, but this guy provides something totally different, yet very important. “A warrior”, like Renard said in a press conference. Already a cult hero in Saudi Arabia as well, unsurprisingly.
2. Medhi Benatia (DEF 31, Juventus 🇮🇹)
Players come and go, but Medhi Benatia will, as long as he’s active, still remain as the most decorated Moroccan footballer. Things have not planned out the way he hoped after a disappointing World Cup from an individual point of view, with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci being preferred at Juventus. But you can’t take the accomplishments from last season away from Benatia and the fact that Morocco look like a completely different team with him in the line-up. Was sorely missed against Comoros, but returned for the crucial match against Cameroon and all of a sudden the confidence was back in the defense. Hopefully he’ll be motivated for a few more years at international level.
1. Hakim Ziyech (MID 25, Ajax 🇳🇱)
Eredivisie Player of the Season. Double-digits in both goals and assists. Top goalscorer in the national team. Hakim Ziyech is the man on everyone’s lips and deservedly so. He is the creative force and key figure at an Ajax side which have been seducing football hipsters this season under the hands of Erik ten Hag. 31 goals and 47 assists in 106 games is his stats for the Amsterdam club and after a move to Roma failed in the summer, we can only imagine which giants would be after him this time around. With a lethal left-foot, great vision and also defensive contributions now added to his game, Ziyech has the abilities to succeed anywhere. Only he can decide where this will end, but for now – he’ll have to settle with Maghrib Foot’s Player of the Year award!
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