When Raja Casablanca playmaker Mouhssine Moutouali takes to the field at the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2013 he will no longer be the firebrand he was as a younger man. Now one of his team’s biggest stars with the captain’s armband around his sleeve, the 27-year-old Moroccan has come a long way.
Four years ago Moutouali’s attitude on and off the field had him marked as one of Morocco’s footballing bad boys. But he pulled himself back from the brink and after securing his place in Raja’s first team, guided them to league victory this season and qualification for their second ever Club World Cup.
Fans of Morocco’s domestic game will be watching Moutouali closely, and the young midfielder himself has heady ambitions. Speaking to FIFA.com, he voiced his hope that his team could progress through the tournament for a chance to take on European champions Bayern Munich and their bevy of international stars.
With a captain’s self-confidence, Moutouali spoke of his pride that Raja Casablanca would be taking to the world stage: “Everyone is really proud that we’re taking part. It will be the first time for all the guys. But Raja are an international quality outfit and we can boast of being the first African team to play in the Club World Cup back in 2000.”
“Personally,” he went on, “I’m very happy to be playing in my first global club tournament of this calibre. I hope that we have a great competition.”
The Raja Casablanca lynchpin explained his side’s priority is to exploit their home advantage and go further than they did in their last outing. Back in 2000, Raja went out after three defeats to Brazil’s Corinthians, Real Madrid and Al Nasr.
“We’ve got serious ambitions," said the man voted best player in the Moroccan League in 2010-2011. "Our first attempt was really extraordinary for us. Ask any Moroccan about the 2000 Raja side and they will tell you about the game against Real Madrid. Footage of the match is extremely popular online and it’s the biggest selling sports video in Morocco.”
“Neither myself nor the fans will ever forget that game, because it was when we showed we were a world-class outfit despite the differences between us and Real Madrid stars like Fernando Hierro, Guti and their goalkeeper, Casillas.”
Taking on the best in the world
Both Moutouali and Raja’s supporters are hoping for a clash with Bayern Munich, but if they are to get that far they will have to see off a number of opponents starting with New Zealand’s Auckland City FC.
The idea makes Moutouali laugh: “First of all Bayern Munich are a long way in the future. We will be focussed on our first game, then there’s the quarter-finals and the semi-finals after that. Should we succeed and make it to the final then we will have the chance to defend Raja’s honour and the reputation of Moroccan football against Bayern.”
“But then again,” he admitted, “I hope the dream becomes a reality and we get to face the most established side at the tournament. It would be amazing to take on the big boys of Europe, like Ribery and Robben and all the other players who have achieved so much with Bayern.”
Raja’s first match at the Club World Cup will be against Auckland City FC on September 11. Despite the fact they have featured in four previous editions of the tournament, Moutouali regards the New Zealand giants as an unknown quantity.
“I’ll be honest,” said the man who returned to Raja from a loan spell at UAE side Emirates Club: “I don’t know much about them. But if they’ve played at the Club World Cup that many times then they are sure to be a quality team, and that means a tough opening match for us. We hope we can get past them and progress further.”
Turning to the team’s objectives, Moutouali was straightforward: “The players, coaching staff and management are all anticipating bigger and better from us. Winning the first game is vital because it will pave the way to later rounds. However it requires special preparations. We have to read our opponents well and respect everyone we’re up against. Everyone seems to be expecting us to breeze past Auckland and that’s a big error.”
Asked about his ability to lead his side to successes at this tournament, the Moroccan’s answer shows just how far he has come since the reckless days of his youth: “Mohsine Moutouali isn’t the only player in this side. If my teammates are on song then we’ll get the results we need at this tournament. Without them I can’t do anything because my strength comes from them.”
Whether Moutouali can give the fans the Bayern Munich clash they want or not, he will be keen to prove that he has grown up. The tournament is his chance to show that he deserves the acclaim as one of his side’s best players.