Morocco Is Profiting The Most From Spain’s Wealth Of Soccer Players

Judging by his fresh picks, head coach Luis de la Fuente is curious to see which less experienced or previously overlooked players can give the Spanish national team a different edge.

La Roja has already booked a spot at next year’s European Championships in Germany, and there could now be debuts and further opportunities for Real Sociedad goalkeeper Álex Remiro, Bayer Leverkusen’s flying full-back Álex Grimaldo, and midfield candidates Aleix García and Rodrigo Riquelme before the tournament.

Surprisingly, Barcelona pair Pedri and Alejandro Baldé have momentarily taken a back seat, with de la Fuente picking the new names—up for selection against Cyprus and Georgia—from an abundant talent pool. Of course, stiff competition for places bodes well for Spain. But amidst this, the biggest beneficiary is another country.

Villarreal winger Ilias Akhomach is the most recent player to switch his international allegiance from Spain to Morocco (Spanish). Born in Barcelona, the 19-year-old’s mother and father come from the Mahgreb country. Under FIFA’s eligibility rules, players like him can swap nations if they have at least one parent or grandparent from the country in question—and if they haven’t played for their original choice more than three times or in over three years. Further, that only applies if they haven’t featured in a major tournament for their previous side.

Akhomach, who twice starred for Barcelona’s senior team before joining Villarreal, is not alone. Another ex-Barcelona winger, Las Palmas’ Munir El Haddadi, is a fully-fledged Atlas Lions star despite previously donning the red shirt. Madrid native and former Real wing-back Achraf Hakimi is the most renowned one on this list. Meanwhile, Blaugrana prodigy Lamine Yamal has gone with Spain, although he could have also opted for Morocco.

Behind this is the high number of players with this dual nationality coming through in La Liga, resulting in more transfers—and paperwork—for the Spanish and Moroccan soccer associations. One example is Brahim Díaz; in €101 million ($108 million) recruit Jude Belligham’s absence, he’s getting more game time at Los Blancos, and the Málaga-born midfielder has reportedly settled on a soccer future with Morocco. However, he’s still awaiting his first cap for the one-time Africa Cup of Nations winner.

There’s little wonder it has reached this stage. Moroccans comprise much of Spain’s foreign population, with the two lands nearby. As for soccer, many aspiring players consider Spain the natural destination to build a career—either by moving or staying put and progressing through clubs’ youth academies. As well as close family links, the reason for switching national team allegiances is down to opportunities.

Following on from predecessor Luis Enrique, who had 55 faces on a provisional squad list before the last World Cup, De la Fuente’s experimentation with new players demonstrates Spain’ plentiful options. That’s leading some prospects to explore alternatives in search of international experience, with opportunities more likely in the Moroccan setup—based in Rabat.

For the Morocco coach Walid Regragui, whose side famously toppled Spain in the 2022 World Cup knockout round, that means a trickle of ready-made, technically-gifted players alongside those Morocco is already developing. All this is happening as Morocco plans to build one stadium and upgrade six others before hosting the 2030 World Cup with Spain and Portugal—by which time it will be fascinating to see who makes the selection.

While Spain can afford to let some bright sparks leave, it’s not necessarily closer to claiming soccer’s biggest prize. De la Fuente’s brief is to start another golden era. A few miles south, Morocco’s may have only just begun.

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