Voted Player of the Year in Belgium in 2007, Mbark Boussoufa is sure to prove a key player for new Morocco coach Roger Lemerre as qualification gets underway for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa ™. Their journey begins against Ethiopia on 30 May, and the explosive Anderlecht winger will be eager to make his presence felt after missing the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana through injury.
FIFA.com spoke to him in the lead-up to the big day.
FIFA.com:Following Morocco's disappointing showing at the Africa Cup of Nations, certain players blamed the atmosphere within the squad. How do you explain the poor performances?
Mbark Boussoufa: I can't say anything because I wasn't there. But I can assure you that we've made a new start with new players coming on board. It's encouraging for the future and our win against Belgium adds to my optimism.
That 4-1 victory was certainly impressive, and since then Roger Lemerre has taken the reins. What are you expecting him to bring to the role?
He's a big name who has coached France and won the Africa Cup of Nations with Tunisia. He's got plenty of experience and that can only be a plus for the squad, so I'm happy with his appointment. He'll have to be given some time to really impose his will on the team and get the best out of it, and that's something he knows how to do. Our goal is still to qualify for the World Cup and even though our qualification won't be decided in June, every match will be important, starting with the first.
*Once again, a foreign coach has been given the job of coaching an African team. Do you have an opinion on that trend? * It's the Association that decides, and I'm not going to start complaining or demanding this or that. As we've already had Moroccan coaches in the past, I think it was more about choosing the right man.
Is it fair to say Morocco find themselves in an easy group? You could have done worse than being drawn with Ethiopia, Rwanda and Mauritania.
There are no easy groups in Africa. The overall level is higher now, and more and more Africans are playing in the big competitions. Guinea are a good example of how standards risen in general across the continent. I think we're at the same level as Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt and Cameroon, and now we just have to prove it. With the disappointment of the Africa Cup of Nations behind us, now we'll see what we're capable of.
You spoke earlier about a new generation. Who are the players to look out for?
[Abdessalam] Benjelloun has great potential. He's made a name for himself in Scotland and his future looks bright providing he carries on in the same direction. He's young and he still has a lot to learn. [Soufiane] Alloudi proved his own worth by scoring a hat-trick at the Africa Cup of Nations, which was historic.
Do you feel like one of the senior figures in the national team now, given your CV?
I've been in the side for a year and a half and I'm settling in slowly but surely. I want to become an important element but for now I don't feel I'm quite there. I'm not totally integrated yet and above all I haven't won anything. I've got everything to prove.
Has your Golden Shoe award as Belgium's best player had an impact in Morocco?
Yes, there was a lot of talk about me in the newspapers. I need to live up to this new standing.
Can having too many big names in one team be a negative thing?
The example set by Egypt shows that having great players isn't a problem as long as you're able to keep the big names focused in the changing room. It's the attitude that makes the difference and they're a team who've set an example in terms of having a united squad. On the other hand, when every player plays for himself, it gets problematic.
Have you already started to research your opponents?
I don't know anything about them. We'll get all the information we need, and all the videos especially, from the very first day we meet up. That's not a problem.
You can play in several positions. What's your role in the Morocco team?
I play on the wing or behind the strikers. I don't know how Roger Lemerre will want to use me yet.
*Who is the most popular Moroccan footballer back home? * Marouane Chamakh.
And who are you closest to in the national set-up?