A major force in Africa, Raja Casablanca have long wielded a powerful influence on the Moroccan scene, battling it out with arch city rivals Wydad Casablanca (WAC) for domestic supremacy.
Yet, following a surprisingly poor start to this season's championship in which they failed to win any of their first four games, Raja have found themselves cast in the unlikely role of also-rans despite a mid-season rally. One reason for their underachievement this term is significant upheaval in both the coaching and playing staff.
Spanish coach Paco Fortes was relieved of his duties before the season even began, with Frenchman Jean-Yves Chay coming in to replace him. A number of leading players also moved on, among them rising young star Soufiane Alloudi, who was loaned out to UAE side Al Ain. Marooned in 13th place after those opening four games, Les Rajaouis finally found some form as winter closed in, picking up eight wins and five draws in 15 games between November and February, a run that helped them climb into the upper echelons of the table.
Even so, Les Verts had left themselves with too much ground to make up on the leading duo of FAR Rabat and IZ Khemisset, and two away defeats at fellow high-fliers HUS Agadir and DH El Jadida in April spelt the end of their title chances. The only silver lining for Chay's men in an ultimately disappointing campaign were a brace of victories over their bitter enemies WAC. Even those triumphs, however, were not enough to save the Frenchman from the sack, with Raja having already announced the appointment of Portuguese tactician Jose Romao for the coming season.
Out of Africa
The Casablanca giants have enjoyed mixed fortunes in their various cup commitments this season. After finishing a lowly 11th in the league last term, they missed out on a place in the African tournaments altogether and had to focus their efforts instead on the Arab Champions League, now in its fifth year, and the Moroccan Cup.
Chay's men advanced to the group phase of the Arab Champions League after seeing off Palestinian minnows Chaabab Rafeh and 2007 CAF Confederation Cup runners-up Al Merrikh in the knockout rounds, the latter success including a creditable 2-2 draw in Sudan.
Unfortunately for the Moroccans, that was as far as they progressed. Drawn into the same section Al Faycali of Jordan, Algerian outfit ES Setif and Al Majd of Syria, Raja did pull off a notable 1-0 win at home to Setif, the holders and eventual champions, but missed out on a top-two finish to go out of the competition.
On the domestic front Les Casaouis fared no better in their assault on the Moroccan Cup, bowing out at the quarter-final stage after a 1-0 defeat to Moghreb Athletic of Tetouan.
Along with WAC and FAR, Raja boast one of the most impressive rolls of honour in Moroccan football. Unlike their two fiercest enemies, who operated a virtual duopoly from the 1950s through to the early 90s, the green and whites only emerged as a force to be reckoned at the end of the 80s, their maiden league title coming in 1988, nearly 40 years after the club was founded. That triumph represented a psychological breakthrough for Raja, and between 1996 and 2004 they would harvest a further seven national championships, six them on the bounce, an unprecedented feat in Moroccan football.
It was during that glorious period that Raja conquered Africa, completing a remarkable continental treble in 1999 by winning the CAF Champions League, the CAF Super Cup and the Afro-Asian Club Championship.
That achievement paved the way to an appearance at the 2000 FIFA Club World Cup in Brazil, where the African champions went out at the group stage after going down 2-0 to Corinthians and losing out narrowly to Al Nassr and Real Madrid in seven- and five-goal thrillers respectively.
Six-time winners of the Moroccan Cup, Raja have also enjoyed considerable success in Africa. Aside from their annus mirabilis in 1999, the Casablanca side have lifted the CAF Champions League on two other occasions, not to mention the CAF Confederations Cup in 2003 and the 2006 Arab Champions League.
After the euphoria of the 90s, Les Verts have endured lean times of late. Their last Moroccan league and cup triumphs came in 2004 and 2005 respectively and the supporters are becomingly increasingly impatient at the club's diminishing returns. That anxiety has made the Raja hotseat somewhat hotter than in recent years, with the last five seasons seeing a host of different coaches come and go. Their task has hardly been made easier by constant changes in playing personnel.
That said, the board are aware of the need to restructure the club and lay the solid foundations required for a return to the summit of Moroccan football. With that very objective in mind, Raja have signed a number of sponsorship deals in recent months and have also launched the country's first season-ticket scheme in a bid to consolidate their fanbase.
Forming part of a major sports complex situated in the suburb of Maarif, right in the city centre, the Stade Mohamed V is home to both Raja and Wydad. Opened on 6 March 1955, it has a capacity of 60,000 and has been refurbished on several occasions over the years. In 2007 an international-standard semi-artificial pitch was installed at the stadium. Seating in the VIP and side stands was also upgraded and a new athletics track laid.
11 Moroccan League titles: 1988, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2009, 2011, 2013
7 Moroccan Cups: 1974, 1977, 1982, 1996, 2002, 2005, 2012
3 CAF Champions Leagues: 1989, 1997, 1999
1 CAF Confederation Cups: 2003
1 CAF Super Cup : 1999
1 Arab Champions League: 2006
1 Afro-Asian Club Championship: 1999
*The honours listed above are considered to be the club’s major titles and, as such, are not intended to be a full list of achievements.
Hicham Aboucherouane, Sofiane Alloudi, Salaheddine Bassir, Mustapha Chadli, Amine Erbati, Abdelmajid Dolmi, Abdelilah Fahmi, Talal El Karkouri