Morocco made history at the weekend when they became the first team to win the Total African Nations Championship (CHAN) back-to-back after beating Mali 2-0 in the final played in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
The CHAN triumph is by no means a fluke, but the result of painstaking planning, excellent administration and clarity of vision under the astute leadership of Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) president Fouzi Lekjaa.
Lekjaa has turned around Morocco's football fortunes since taking over as FRMF president seven years ago.
Wydad Casablanca were crowned African champions in 2017 while their crosstown rivals Raja Casablanca won the Confederation Cup the following year before RS Berkane won it last year, a term in which four Moroccan clubs made it to the semi-finals of continental competitions, and the home-based national team has just retained the CHAN.
We look at some of the elements birthed out of Lekjaa's results-yielding strategy that has led to the North African country's success in recent years.
The Kingdom now has more than 200 synthetic pitches, about 20 world class stadiums with natural grass and lighting, five regional training centres and the state-of-the-art Mohammed VI Football Complex, a unique and outstanding facility in Africa.
After visiting the iconic Mohammed VI last year, FIFA boss Gianni Infantino said: "This centre has nothing to envy to other centres in the world, and it must serve as an example."
The second axis of Lekjaa's strategy is excellent governance for clubs. Governing clubs well would have a positive impact on how Moroccan teams fare in the continent as well as fast-track the development of players. A strong league would then give national team coaches a wider pool of players to pick from, hence Morocco's dominance at the CHAN.
"The Morocco game has improved quite a lot, clubs are very professional, and the facilities are exceptional. It's no wonder that the national team is doing well," said Kabelo Seakanyeng, a Botswana international who turns out for second tier side Olympique Khouribga.
The country's elite clubs are in the process of being transformed into public limited companies and have been placed under the supervision of the National Control and Management Department.
On the other hand, the FRMF provides each first division club with an annual grant of approximately 600,000 euros.
This is in addition to the financial aid and support provided to clubs participating in continental competitions by FRMF.
Clubs have, over the years, secured training centres as they drive aggressively towards developing youngsters. Raja Casablanca are just finalising the construction of an ultra-modern academy.
Part of the FRMF's strategy has also been to promote the training of coaches, medical staff and referees in a bid to improve the quality of the domestic game.
Amidst the Covid-19 outbreak, Morocco was able to complete the 2019/20 season under a bio-bubble. At the CHAN tournament, some of the participants like Zimbabwe and Namibia had not played football in over a year. Morocco's leagues are back in full swing for the new season.
"The triumph of Moroccan soccer can also be credited to the FRMF's excellent management of the covid-19 crisis: the 2019/2020 Botola resumed with an effective health protocol that allowed Moroccan fans to experience an epic season, with three teams vying for the title on the final day," a Rabat-based analyst said.
Despite the crisis that has seen many countries across the continent lose corporate sponsors, the FRMF managed to secure a new sponsor, telecom giant Inwi. The federation then hired a company specialized in scheduling championship matches, and extended the use of the VAR technology to the second division.
"We actually have VAR in the second-tier league, it's absolutely amazing," said Seakanyeng, who previously had stints in Malta and South Africa.
Africa's best league
"It is this strategy that has enabled the Moroccan championship, the Botola Pro, to be the best in Africa in terms of performance," the analyst said.
According to the ranking of CAF member associations published in September 2020, the Moroccan championship has become the best championship in Africa, with three of its clubs in the top 10 of the best clubs in Africa.
In the 2019/20 season, four of the eight semi-finalists in the Champions League and the Confederations Cup were from Botola. This meant all Moroccan clubs reached the last four, and the Confederation Cup was won by the Sports Renaissance of Berkane ahead of the Egyptian club Pyramids FC.
In recent years, Moroccan clubs have also won several continental competitions. In fact, Moroccan clubs have become some of the most feared in continental competitions.
National teams' progress
The success has also filtered down to age group national teams. Morocco's national Under 20 team qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations set to be hosted in Mauritania this month after a 15-year absence from the competition.
Women's football has not been left out. President Lekjaa last year announced an important development plan for women's soccer. A massive budget was set aside to turn the women's game into a professional league.
French coach Reynald Pedros, a two-time winner of the UEFA Women's Champions League, was hired, in sheer demonstration of the FRMF's ambition for women's soccer.
In 2022, Morocco hosts the Women's CAN and they will look to dazzle their visitors and continue ascending to greatness.