Madjid Bougherra is unanimously regarded as one of Algeria’s mainstays, having played a central role in Les Fennecs’ qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ - the second time in a row they have reached the world finals.
The dependable 31-year-old central defender is now hoping to lead his country beyond the group phase for the first time ever. That task promises to be a difficult one, with Russia, Korea Republic and Belgium providing the opposition for the Algerians, who begin their Group H campaign against the Belgians in Belo Horizonte on 17 June.
Fresh from winning a second consecutive Qatari league title with Lekhwiya, Bougherra spoke to FIFA.com about his life in Qatar, his time with Glasgow Rangers, the AFC Champions League, his objectives for Brazil 2014 and the social responsibilities football has to fulfil.
FIFA.com: You had successful stays in France, England and Scotland before leaving for Qatar. Why did you decide to join Lekhwiya?
Madjid Bougherra: What made me sign for Lekhwiya was the fantastic project the club’s directors presented to me. They want to build a big club that’s strong in Qatar and Asia. As you can see, I’ve spent three years here and in that time we’ve won two league titles and a Crown Prince Cup, successes that have made us one of the most respected clubs in Qatar and have got us noticed on the continental scene.
You’ve played in the UEFA Champions League and taken on big teams such as Manchester United and Valencia. How big is the gap with the AFC Champions League? What does Asia need to close the gap on Europe?
You can’t compare the two competitions because the level is exceptional in Europe. We are not far behind the major international competitions: we’ve got great players and the stadiums are full. The audience and the style of play are different in Asia and there’s a step-up in quality from the quarter-finals onwards.
You won three Scottish championships with Rangers. Do you still follow them?
Yes, I know they’ve just got promoted from the Scottish second division. The club has always attracted big support and they get crowds of around 50,000 for every match. I’m absolutely convinced the team will make it back to the top.
Let’s talk a little bit about Algeria. What do you think about the team’s performances over these last four years?
The national FA has done a lot and things have got better in the last six or seven years or so. The players are looked after and a training centre has been built especially for the national team. We also have quite a few people playing professionally in Europe, and there’s also the fact that Halilhodzic [the national team coach, Vahid] has done a good job. It’s up to the young players in the new generation to keep the momentum going over the next four years.
You starred in South Africa, especially in the match against England. What are your memories of the tournament and that game?
It was a fantastic match in front of a sell-out crowd and it was a pleasure for me to play against the English. The conditions were good to play in and we put in a good performance against a great team. Nobody expected us to get a result like that. Everyone thought we would lose. We showed in that game just what Algerian football can do. My only regret is that we didn’t get better results in the tournament. Fear held us back but it was a great experience for us and it will stand us in good stead in Brazil.
Moving on to Brazil 2014 now, Algeria will be taking part in their second World Cup in a row. What are your chances in Group H?
We’re aiming to get past the first round for the first time in our history. The people of Algeria want us to show how far our football has come on and that we can play the game in the right spirit. For some of the players it’s their first major competition, and it’s up to the older members of the team to tell them to give it all they have and enjoy the occasion.
When and why did you get the nickname “The Magician”?
When I went to Crewe Alexandra they’d gone 17 matches without winning. Then in my first game we went and won. We got some more good results after that, which is why the club’s fans started calling me “The Magician”.
You are a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Algeria. What does that position mean to you?
It’s very important to me because it gives me the chance to help children and get the message across about football’s social responsibilities. When you’re a footballer at the highest level you have to set an example. I’ve been to quite a few events organised by UNICEF in Algeria and I was very happy to attend them. I’ve also set up the Bougherra Foundation to help youngsters and families in need.
What social role can football play, especially off the pitch?
I got involved because I think football is a force for good in society. A player has to use his image to do positive things because football is a great sport played by millions of people around the world. Personally, I have the greatest respect for players who help develop the game and are committed to society. A lot of them were born in poor neighbourhoods and they feel as if they have a mission to perform, which just shows the power of the modern game today.