Representing a Nation as a Team

As soon as Morocco qualified to the World Cup, unusual words have been written about the team. Many journalists felt it’s necessary to mention that most players weren’t even born in Morocco. Even the first scorer against Ivory Coast, Nabil Dirar, is described as "raised in Belgium" rather than "born in Morocco".

Morocco represents a different viewpoint on the national teams. This viewpoint is trying to have a different idea about what national team should represent.

 Nabil Dirar, Moroccan or Belgian? (AFP)

Nabil Dirar, Moroccan or Belgian? (AFP)

Historically, football teams represented communities. The teams were based on people with the same background like common school or workplace, spreading the name of their hometown all over the region or the country.

In almost 150 years, the football has changed tremendously. The local identity of the clubs got less emphasis if big money and more foreigners were part of the squads. Fans had to find a new platform to show who they are, a platform that will represent their own identity.

In that case, national teams are the last place that players and fans connected all with the same idea, united by symbols, colors and songs. Even naturalized players didn't become such wide phenomena and only a few teams have that haven't at least raised in the country.

 Morocco national team fans, looking to show their identity (DR)

Morocco national team fans, looking to show their identity (DR)

In recent decades, national teams have changed. One of the first symbols of it was France’s winning squad in the 1998 World Cup. A brace scored in the final by Zinedine Zidane that his parents emigrated from Algeria to France. Some of his teammates were born in Senegal and Ghana, while others had Armenian and Polish roots. A mixture of cultures made one team that represented one country, France.

The new national teams since then tried to represent the new demographics of their country. People emigrated from different parts of the world and tried to find themselves a new home in Europe. The children that were raised in their new countries became those who played for the national teams in countries like Germany and Switzerland. The teams combined people from different origins when the only obligation was to be restricted into defined borders.

While Mesut Özil, for example, will play for Germany, no one will mention his Turkish roots. As he born and raised in Germany, no one will ever doubt the legitimacy of Özil in the national team. So, why should the Moroccan national players have people ask questions about their place of birth?

 France 1998, different identities, one team (Getty Images)

France 1998, different identities, one team (Getty Images)

We got used to national teams based on people who live in the same country. For decades, the difference between playing in one national team or the other was decided by the side of the border on which you were born. Things have changed in the modern world; as more people are facing complex identities, as you can be descendant to parents from different origins and even live in different countries.

A team like Morocco is challenging this idea. For these teams, they are not representing the country, but they are representing the nation, as a national team should do. For Morocco, it doesn't matter whether you have been born in Netherlands or France; if you are Moroccan you can be part of us. Borders are not part of the game anymore, the only thing interesting is whether you feel part of our nation.

After the qualification the World Cup, Moroccans all over the world celebrated. In Amsterdam and Paris, people felt pride when their team had success, and they could share their feelings easily with people in Casablanca or Rabat. They share an identity, they are all the same, they are all part of the national team, a team that represents their nation.