Morocco’s World Cup success not a surprise says former King’s Lynn goalkeeper who represented the Atlas Lions
To quote an old Moroccan proverb: “If you are responsible for a problem, you should find the solution.”
Translated, it means taking responsibility seriously.
It’s a saying that can be applied to the Moroccan football team that took the 2022 World Cup by storm after becoming the first African team ever to reach the semi-finals.
But their success in Qatar came as no surprise to a former King’s Lynn goalkeeper, who has donned the gloves a couple of times for Atlas Lions.
Chuck Martini is one of the most colorful characters to have ever worn a Linnets shirt and is open about Morocco’s rapid progress throughout the tournament.
“They have a fighting and collective spirit, which new coach Walid Regragui instilled,” he said.
“He brought back the love of wearing the Moroccan shirt as I know many players were very discouraged by the old regime.
“Walid is Moroccan by birth, a former international and, like me, a player who grew up abroad and played professionally.
“He came in and did a fantastic job organizing the team and there’s a tremendous vibe in that dressing room.”
Moroccan players have made a remarkable and significant contribution to Europe’s top teams over the past two decades and that alone has served them well on the world stage.
“I was one of the first players to play for Morocco and actually play in Europe,” explained Martini, who captained the Under-21s and won four caps for the senior side.
“Now most of the players are all professionals in Europe and ply their trade in the Champions League and Europa Leagues.
“That’s also why the national team did so well at this World Cup.”
Arabs and Africans around the world are proud and happy at their nations remarkable rise on the pitch.
The African nation have already faced three European giants in Belgium, Spain and Portugal and now have their sights set on France in Wednesday night’s semi-finals.
Martini, who lives in Qatar himself, said: “The impact of the national team’s success has been phenomenal, it’s been a roller coaster of bliss.
“It has united the African and Arab countries through sport and you can feel this warmth and togetherness that lives here.”
Martini sees many similarities between him and current Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, who conceded just one goal against Canada in the group stage.
“Yassine is great, he was voted goalkeeper of the season in La Liga last year,” he said.
“He was Sevilla’s No2 for a couple of years but has done fantastically since he was promoted to the first team.
“He takes a lot of risks by coming out and trying to play with his feet like I used to do and he’s also a very good shot stopper but the only thing he’s superior to me is his extra size, and he’s so good at his field.
“I was very colorful and loud, while Yassine has more of a calming influence.”
Bounou had to do it the hard way, spending his early days playing in Morocco’s top academy while Martini’s young days were spent in the UK.
The 52-year-old’s youth career took him to Tottenham Hotspur, Wimbledon and Leicester City before briefly playing for Wycombe Wanderers and Barnet in the UK.
While at Leicester City, Foxes manager Martin O’Neil allowed the flamboyant shot-stopper to join Lynn on loan under the tutelage of former Nottingham Forest team-mate Gary Mills.
His time in Norfolk did not get off to the best possible start as Lynn exited the FA Cup at home to Minnows West Auckland Town in the fourth qualifying round.
Martini was shocked and touched when Lynn was humiliated by a team that ironically became the first ever winners of the world’s first international football tournament.
While England’s 1966 World Cup heroes are treasured by football fans across the country, it was a coal miners’ team from West Auckland Town AFC that conquered the world many years earlier.
West Auckland accepted the challenge of representing their country and won the first-ever Thomas Lipton Trophy in Turin, Italy, in 1909, later dubbed ‘the first World Cup’.
The finger was immediately pointed at Lynn’s new steward, who said after losing the Shock Cup: “The goal was a distraction.
“He went straight through but got deflected by Glen Fuff’s head and I had a wrong foot,” explained Martini – the first foreign international to play for The Walks.
“I was a bit nervous at first, but I hadn’t played for four weeks.”
Player-coach Mills said he saw no distraction, adding: “We got what we deserved, we lacked quality and passion and we didn’t pick up second balls.
“I’m disappointed with every goal, no matter how it comes in. We missed a chance to play a league side but good luck to Auckland, they got a great result.”
It was Lynn’s only blemish in an otherwise successful interlude, where he soon became a cult hero with fans.
During his two years with the Linnets, the Moroccan set a new clean sheet record with 11 hours and 45 minutes without conceding.
His incredible run of clean sheets began on 23 March 1999 at home against Bath City and ended at home against Ilkeston on the final day of the season.
Martini said of his time in Norfolk: “I have fond memories of my time at King’s Lynn. I was the third-choice keeper at Leicester City at the time and Martin O’Neil asked me if I would do him a favor by going there and playing for Gary Mills.
“We struggled in the Southern League when I came on but Gary put together some good players and we fought our way to the top by the end of the season.
“I have some fantastic memories and of course the clean sheet record is something I will never forget.
“I wish the King’s Lynn fans well. They’ve been good to me and I really hope they get promoted back to the National League.”
After leaving the Walks he played for a variety of other non-league clubs before turning to managing Godalming Town and Walton & Hersham.
The Meknes-born player, who appeared as a pundit at Al Jazeera during the World Cup, owns the Premier League Football Academy brand, which has football academies in Oman, Qatar and Thailand.
And his hard work is bearing fruit: one player from his Muscat Football Academy in Oman is moving to FC Utrecht in the Dutch Eredivisie, another to Aston Villa in the Premier League and two to Italian club Genoa.
It’s also further proof that football has never been in a better place in the African and Arab countries as everyone involved takes responsibility seriously.