Guest Article: Flight of The Moroccans

In full flow for his new national side - Mounir El-Hamdaoui

Continuing the influx of guest articles onto the blog, the very knowledgeable Thomas Archer of introduces us to an interesting trend encircling Moroccan and Dutch football.

Don’t whisper it too loudly but there is a revolution occuring in The Netherlands.

The land of Edam, Delft and pancakes is fully behind ‘Het Oranje’ and Bert van Marwijk, following the largely unexpected success in the World Cup and the way in which van Marwijk has continued to introduce exciting young players to the national team.

One of those stars coming to the fore is Ibrahim Afellay.  The man who is 99% certain of a free transfer ‘abroad’, as Patrick Kluivert put it on television last night, was the linchpin of Holland’s cruising  4-1 win over Sweden in the Amsterdam Arena, scoring two goals and setting up another.

Afellay was born in Utrecht to Moroccan parents 24 years ago and was, therefore, eligible to represent both Morocco and The Netherlands.  That he opted for the land of his birth was no ‘real’ surprise, as he was clearly good enough to become a regular fixture in the Dutch national team, but more and more players of Moroccan descent are choosing to play for the Maghreb country rather than the team that plays in such Briljant Oranje.

For those of you who are not aware of the Dutch political situation, you may have been drawn to the antics of Geert Wilders (recently invited to join a coalition government following the deposing of Jan-Pieter Balkenende), the man who wants to ban the Qu’ran and Burkha in The Netherlands.  Some may think that he is just a bit of a ‘nutjob’ with extreme views, although the opinion poles may suggest the opposite with many Dutch-voters drawn to his right-wing views.  This situation perhaps makes it less of a surprise that the Moroccan-Dutch feel more at home playing for the country of their ancestors rather than that of their birth, especially as the average Moroccan in The Netherlands is treated with as much suspicion by many Dutch as a Serb in a Chinese fireworks store.  The Dutch lay the blame for the increase in shootings and rapes at the door of the immigrant population, many of who live in Rotterdam and nearby Gouda.  A look at Feyenoord’s recent teams shows a team that represent the city with a population of more than 60% who were not born in The Netherlands..  Included in those teams was Moroccan captain Karim El-Ahmadi, born in the Western city of Enschede, who arrived at Feyenoord in a big-money move from Eredivisie rivals FC Twente, a couple of years ago.

Star of AZ Alkmaar’s title-winning team, Rotterdam-born Mounir El-Hamdaoui, who signed for Ajax over the summer has also recently opted to play for Morocco.  El-Hamdaoui has had a colourful career, polarising opinion with fans of some of the clubs he has played for including Tottenham Hotspur and Derby County, where he scored 3 goals in 9 games.  El-Hamdaoui has had a sparkling start to the season scoring 6 goals in 7 games for Ajax, having attracted the eye of a number of the continents top teams.  El-Hamdaoui previously played for the Jong Oranje (under-21) team as had El-Ahmadi, he has now scored two international goals for Morocco in the five games that he has played since switching allegiance and is now a firm fans favourite on his travels back to Morocco.

The list of players who have switched allegiance from The Netherlands to Morocco includes NAC winger Fouad Idabdelhay, PSV’s Nordin Amrabat, Heerenveen’s attacking left-back with a rocket of a free-kick, Younes El-Akchaoui, Wisla Krakow’s Rotterdam-born Nordin Boukhari and Utrecht-born Ismael Aissati.

Aissati and Amrabat were once seen as the hottest prospects in Dutch football.  Aissati has an impressive CV having played for PSV (with Ibrahim Afellay), FC Twente and Ajax and has recently been loaned out to supposed new super-power Vitesse Arnhem.  Amrabat on the other hand, starred for VVV Venlo in his first Eredivisie season and was subsequently transferred to PSV.  Neither players would have been first-chocie for the Dutch team although they would have been in with a chance to act as back-up players for the team.

It looks like this phenomenon is likely to increase in the future with the appointment of Pim Verbeek as Technical Director and coach of the Moroccan under-21 team working alongside Eric Gerets as head coach.  Recent defectors include Younes Mokhtar and Imad Najah of PSV and AZ’s Ali Messaoua.  However, the biggest loss to the Dutch team will be Zakaria Labyad, the Utrecht-born PSV player who made his debut as a 16 year-old in the Europa League against HSV in 2009.

Promising youngster - Zakaria Labyad

Much is expected of the 17 year-old who has already represented the Dutch at the 2009 under-17 World Cup as well as the under-19 team, however he was sent home from an under-19 training camp last week, when the Dutch received a message from FIFA confirming Labyad’s intention to play for Morocco.  Perhaps not the best way to handle things, but there is sure to have been a lot of pressure on the youngster to switch allegiance.  Labyad is now gone from the mind of the Dutch national selection as a player is only allowed to switch countries once and is therefore tied to Morocco for the rest of his career.

The Dutch’s loss is Morocco’s gain and as a result of the success of the Dutch team in recent years, many more players of dual nationality may see the idea for playing for the country of their forefathers as more inviting and possibly a quick fix.  However one of the strongest reasons may prove to be the increasing nationalist sentiment in Holland, fuelled by the political ideologies of Wilders.  The days of footballers of Moroccan descent such as Khalid Boulahrouz, Afellay and Otman Bakkal choosing for Holland ahead of Morocco may be over.  For now, Morocco’s future appears bright, and it may even be Orange!


2 thoughts on “Guest Article: Flight of The Moroccans

  1. Great article this, expertly researched and written.
    One thing to add about Geert Wilders, on a much simpler note, is that thanks to some hard-stances in parliament recently, football fans in Holland can now enjoy a beer inside the stadium. Yes it’s true, times are changing!

  2. Pingback: Chadli debuts for Lions of the Atlas | Eredivisielife

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