The career of Rais M’Bolhi could almost be a parable designed to hammer home the importance of seizing chances. Born in Paris and first taught the ropes at Marseille, the Algeria goalkeeper travelled extensively as he tried to make his breakthrough, stopping off in Scotland, Greece, Japan and Bulgaria. Last month he moved again, signing for Russian outfit Krylya Sovetov Samara, but he has been enjoying a whole new standing in the game since his exploits last summer.
One of the revelations of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, M’Bolhi had toiled away in anonymity for several years before being propelled into the limelight with his surprise starting berth against England in Cape Town. His performances on the global stage unleashed a wave of ‘M’Bolhimania’ back in Algeria, and the 24-year-old is no less a popular figure now as Les Fennecs (Desert Foxes) prepare to begin their bid to reach the CAF African Cup of Nations 2012.
With the player nicknamed ‘Spiderman’ set to continue between the posts in the friendly with Tunisia and the opening qualifier against Morocco, FIFA.com looks back at his rise to prominence.
South African launchpad
After struggling to make a breakthrough at a whole host of clubs, M’Bolhi ultimately required just 180 minutes of football to secure hero status in his homeland as two outings on South African soil catapulted him from obscurity to stardom. In fact, former Algeria coach Rabah Saadane had only watched him on video before selecting him for the tournament, taking a risk on a player recently named best goalkeeper in Bulgaria for his displays with Slavia Sofia. That the one-time Racing Club de France man had just undergone a trial at Manchester United no doubt helped his cause as well.
As Algeria prepared for South Africa 2010 at their training camp at Crans Montana, M’Bolhi adapted swiftly to life at international level, surely aided by the familiarity of being handed yet another back-up role. One month later, however, the eternal substitute was named as the last line of defence in the Greens' meeting with England, Saadane’s men having lost their opener against Slovenia following an error by Faouzi Chaouchi. A second straight defeat was therefore unthinkable, but the little-known keeper pulled off save after save to keep the Three Lions at bay – and launch ‘M’Bolhimania’ among Algeria supporters.
The No1 is now enjoying the rewards for his patience, having kept faith in his abilities even as others seemed not to. “He always managed to keep his cool and never lost confidence in himself,” explained Aime Lavie, his former team-mate at third-division Japanese club Ryukyu, where M’Bolhi served under his erstwhile Marseille coach Philippe Troussier. M’Bolhi spent four years at OM after signing from RCF in 2002, but with Fabien Barthez at the club he never made a first-team appearance, finding himself third in the pecking order.
"He’s a likeable lad who had everything necessary to be a success here,” said Robert Nazaretian, vice-president of the OM Association, which oversees the club’s academy. “He took criticism badly, though, and couldn’t look at things positively.” That analysis is disputed by M'Bolhi's former colleague in the France U-16 and U-17 sides, Ted Lavie, Aime’s brother. “He didn’t get the same chance as the likes of [Hugo] Lloris,” said Lavie. “If he’d played for Nice or Lorient, he’d have had a better club career.”
“I still have very good memories of him,” added another former team-mate from his days in France’s youth national teams, Geoffrey Jourdren. “He’s big, energetic and very good with the ball at his feet. It was tough at OM with Barthez there.”
Nicknamed ‘Dida’ at Marseille’s training complex, M’Bolhi eventually packed his bags in 2006 and opted to try his luck with Hearts. Never handed an opportunity to show what he could do in the first team, he ultimately stayed just six months in Scotland before heading for Greece and Ethnikos Piraeus. The second-tier outfit from the port of Athens then loaned him to Panetolikos after giving him just five appearances.
M’Bolhi was on the move again in 2008 as he set sail for Japan, and though he found himself in the third tier he enjoyed an active first season. He featured 22 times for Ryukyu and even managed to save three penalties in one match, an exploit which caught the eye of Slavia Sofia and soon had M’Bolhi heading for the Bulgarian capital.
It was there that his career finally began to lift off and, after winning the country’s best goalkeeper plaudits on the eve of the FIFA World Cup, he was loaned out to CSKA Sofia upon his return. That brought with it the experience of UEFA Europa League football and, in January, a three-year contract in Russia. Now boasting a status in the club game to match his international standing, M’Bolhi can perhaps look back on the last six years as vital preparation for what ought to be the central chapters of his career.