Rachid Mekhloufi, the Algerian footballing legend from the 1950s and 60s, was in Zurich on Monday 17 March to visit the FIFA offices and meet President Blatter. During a distinguished career, Mekhloufi scored and also set up a hatful of goals, particularly for legendary French club Saint Etienne. He was also involved in the FLN (Algerian National Liberation Front) team which did much to further the cause of the country's independence in its own unique way, and which will be celebrating its 50 th anniversary in Algiers on 12 April.
FIFA.com met this wonderful character who told the emotional tale of his time with the FLN team, his first visit to France and of course the 1982 FIFA World Cup™, when he was part of Algeria's coaching staff.
FIFA.com: Rachid, what brings you to the Home of FIFA?
Rachid Mekhloufi: I've come to discuss the 50 th anniversary of the founding of the FLN team which will be celebrated on 12 April in Algiers. A year ago, we set up an association of former FLN players, and we are the ones organising the celebrations. I wanted to invite President Blatter to attend, but unfortunately he is a very busy man and he won't be able to come to Algeria. However, I was very flattered that he gave me some of his valuable time here in Zurich.
Tell us about this FLN team?
From 1954 to 1958 we had the Algerian war of independence. In 1958, the National Liberation Front (FLN), which was behind the revolution in Algeria, decided to send away 10 of our country's most famous French-based footballers. The idea was to wake the French up to what was going on in our country, since no-one seemed to know what was really happening. It was a piece of marketing genius by the FLN, as suddenly the French were wondering where these 10 players had gone and why they had disappeared. This 'exodus' showed the French people that there really was a war going on in Algeria, that we were Algerians first and foremost and that we wanted to get our message out to the whole world.
And you were playing all around the world?
We went on tour for a month or two and played a lot of matches. We went to eastern Europe, to the Arab countries then Asia, China, Vietnam. I remember in Vietnam, we met Ho Chi Minh who invited us for breakfast at 7 o'clock in the morning. In total, we must have played around 100 matches.
Which one of those matches stands out the most?
I'll never forget the match in Belgrade. We played against the Yugoslavian national team during Tito's time in power, but ours was just an extra match after the main event, which was between a Brazilian XI and a Yugoslav team. The fans were already leaving the stadium when we started playing, and we really started putting on a show. We put six past the Yugoslavs and played some amazing football. Word got around and people started running back into the stands. That was quite something.
What first brought you toFrance?
Well we obviously didn't have agents at the time, but a journalist in the little town where I lived spotted me and wrote to his brother in Saint Etienne to tell him what he'd 'discovered'. He then told the Saint Etienne club, who sent me a plane ticket, and by 4 August 1954, I was one of Les Verts.
You were a very talented forward. Which did you prefer,
scoring goals or setting them up?
My career was in two parts - before and after the FLN. From 1954 - 1958, I was an out-and-out goalscorer. I used to like to run onto passes and score, and I certainly bagged more than my fair share. After 1962, I came back to Saint Etienne but more as a playmaker, so to speak. Robert Herbin, who played alongside me at the time, paid me a real tribute when he said, 'Rachid's passes are so good, even the guy who locks up the stadium at night could score from them.'
After a fine career as a player, you went on to coach the
Algerian national team. What was that like?
I took charge in 1975 and sent my friends from the FLN team all around the country to help me put together the strongest squad possible. We won the Mediterranean Games despite having a team of unknowns. I remember when I announced my squad, the press thought I was mad. I was back again in 1982, when we had a really talented team, but we let that historic victory over West Germany go to our heads, which was a real waste.