“My heart leans towards Wydad, but Raja symbolise the strength of my character.” Those were the words of Mohamed Ben Lahcen, founder and first manager of Wydad Casablanca in 1937.
With that short sentence, the man known as Pere Jego captured the complexity of one of the most heated rivalries in North African football. Eighteen years later he joined Wydad’s cross-town foes, Raja Casablanca, in a move that would become one of the historical foundations for the ongoing tussle between the two sides.
A handful of players have since emulated Pere Jego and moved between the two clubs, but not without risking the wrath of half the population of Casablanca. Clearly, it takes a strong character, bravery and no shortage of talent to make the switch successfully. Said Fettah swapped the green shirt of Raja for the red of Wydad last winter, and since then, the midfielder has consistently shown that he has all the attributes to succeed.
“This rivalry is no different from the one that exists between Real Madrid and Barcelona, and it’s fundamentally good for the sport,” said Fettah in an interview with FIFA.com. “Personally, I’ve been a Wydad fan since I was very young, and I’ve always been very attached to the club. Circumstances dictated that I played for Raja, but when the chance arose to join my beloved club, I didn’t hesitate.”
It was at Raja that the talented defensive midfielder learned his trade, having been discovered by Fethi Jamal at the age of 10. After joining the club’s training centre, Fettah rose steadily through the ranks, displaying a real quality with the ball at his feet that compensated for his slight build. He went on to play at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Netherlands 2005 under Jamal’s management, and made a key contribution in Morocco’s impressive run to the semi-finals.
However, it was Argentinian coach Oscar Fullone, a former manager of both Raja and Wydad, who gave Fettah his first real taste of success as a professional in 2006. The youngster won the Arab Champions League with Raja in 2006, and lifted the Moroccan league title in 2009. His fiery temper got the better of him on occasion, however, and his spats with the Raja management began to overshadow his strong displays on the pitch. In January 2011, he signed for Raja’s red-and-white neighbours, Wydad.
Fettah has no regrets about the move, and appears to be enjoying life at his new club. “We have a very tight group that plays with a great team spirit. The club is open and friendly, and the players often come with their families,” he explained. “Last year, the league title eluded us because we lacked consistency. We want to put that right at all costs, by learning from it and trusting in our substitutes. This year, I hope we’ll be even better. We have ambition at both national and African level.”
There seems to be substance to the midfielder’s words. Indeed, Wydad are top of the league with a game in hand after six matchdays, and they have yet to concede a single goal. The Moroccan outfit are also preparing to take on Tunisian side Esperance de Tunis in the second CAF Champions League final in their history. They won their only previous final in 1992, and victory this time around would send them to the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011.
“It seems a long way off, and we first need to complete the final step,” said Fettah. “Like any ambitious player, I dream of playing against the best teams in the world. But first things first: we have a final to get through.” For his part, Esperance de Tunis manager Nabil Maaloul certainly plans to keep a close eye on Fettah. “He’s one of the cornerstones of the Wydad side – a very technical player,” Maaloul told FIFA.com. “You can’t let him have the ball, because nearly all of Wydad’s moves go through him. We’ll need to be extra careful with him.”
Maaloul is not alone in admiring Fettah’s talents. Indeed, Morocco’s Belgian coach, Eric Gerets, called the 25-year-old up to the national team at the end of August this year. “It’s a huge honour to play for your country – it’s every player’s dream,” said the recently-capped international. “Our qualification for the African Cup of Nations is a great victory for the players and the Moroccan people. We have a close-knit, winning team. I think Morocco have every chance at the tournament and can consider themselves one of the favourites.”
Fettah is clearly relishing the start of Morocco’s continental campaign in January, and he may yet have the chance to shine on the world stage with Wydad in December. Old rivals Raja reached the FIFA Club World Cup in 2000 and remain the only Moroccan side to have played in the competition. Needless to say, Fettah and his team-mates will be determined to set the record straight.