October 02, 2023 At 4:42 p.m.
Le Matin: On July 8, 2023, you entered the hearts of Moroccans by winning the first African U23 champion title, did this day change your life? Do people easily recognize you in the street, do they come up and say hello?
Issam Charai: A lot has changed in my life. We wrote the history of Moroccan football together, with the Federation. My personal life has changed a lot since then. In the street, many people show me their affection and it is nice to see that this title, this victory on Moroccan soil, has done a lot of good for Moroccans.
I must say that the images of the final against the Egyptians were extraordinary. Egypt were the defending champions, while we were a team in the construction phase. It was a final against a well-oiled team with players who know each other very well and who have automatisms. It was a big challenge to take on and we met it. I thank the players and all the people who contributed to winning this title. The image of the parents of the players moved and touched and the pride of the Moroccans are strong images that will always remain engraved in my memory.
What risk does a title like this pose for these young African champion players?
The risk, uh…
The big head for example?
No, I do not think so. This victory is important for us to acquire the winning mentality. We wanted to put an end to this label of the team that played well, was talented, but couldn’t go all the way. We wanted to get rid of this label. Afterwards, the risk of catching a big head is possible if tomorrow we start winning all the tournaments played. But for the moment, this risk does not exist, because we supervise our players so that they can succeed in their careers.
Are you more authoritarian or flexible?
A bit of both. When you have to be strict, I am, otherwise afterwards, you can also laugh, because football is happiness. It is also important to give this joy to the players, but while respecting the rules.
The African Cup is last for us, it’s a title of which we are proud, now we are looking ahead to the Olympic Games which are a major global sporting event. What will take precedence in the choice of 18 players, because you will only be allowed 18 players, instead of 25 at the CAN?
I informed the players just after the African Cup victory that the list for the Olympics will be only 18 players. There were 25 of us in the African Cup. Now the list is much smaller, but that’s football. This is something players have to deal with mentally. Our choices will depend on their form, injuries, clubs, because the Olympics will take place outside the FIFA date. I have confidence in the Federation to convince the clubs to release the players we need. It’s a little too early to say now, but all of these things will be taken into account. I told the players to play for minutes, to show themselves and Inshallah they will be on the list.
Are you going to prefer talented or versatile players, capable of playing in several positions? How will you proceed?
Versatile players will have a small advantage because the squad will be 18 including goalkeepers. It becomes a little complicated as soon as there are one or two injured. Players who can play in multiple positions will have a small advantage, but obviously others who play in a single position must be the best at their position.
Do you already have an idea of the 18 players who will be able to make the trip to Paris?
No, because the choices depend on several factors. Football is very hard. We won this African Cup, it was magnificent. Now a new page is starting, we must win or have a good result at the Olympics. We will opt for players who are available, in good shape, who will be at the level we want to have them.
You will be allowed three players aged over 23, will you call on players from the national A team?
It’s a good question. I’ve been asked this several times, but it’s a little too early to say. First, we must see which positions will need to be strengthened and consult with the coach of the A, Walid Regragui.
There will be no FIFA date during this period, Walid Regragui could give you players…
No, there is no FIFA date during the Olympic period, but the clubs must also agree to release their players. There will also be a discussion with the coach of team A because he knows the players well. For me, there are three criteria for taking players from selection A, the most important being the will of the player. It’s not always easy, because the players have long seasons. There is also the will of the coach of team A and then the need. If there is a kid who has the same qualities as an A player, we will hang the kid. But if a player from the A team has great qualities and he has the desire to come and help the U23s with his experience and his qualities, he will be welcome.
Between now and the start of the Olympic Games, there are 4 FIFA dates left, what is your preparation program to arrive ready for this competition? Do you have a well-crafted program?
We have already faced 11 African teams. We know African football well. I thank the federation which always arranges friendly matches for us against good opponents. Now we have to prepare to face European, South American and Asian teams. We will play more matches against these nations than against African teams. The ideal would be to play one more match against a South American team, because we have already faced Brazil, one or two matches against North American teams (CONCACAF), two European teams and one or two teams from the Oceania.
Who will be your opponents during the international break in October?
We will have a match against Iraq which is already confirmed. It’s a good team. We are in discussions with several other selections, notably North and South American. It’s not always easy to organize these kinds of matches, especially in terms of logistics. Discussions are underway with Argentina, the Dominican Republic and the United States.
How many matches do you hope to play between now and the start of the Olympics?
As I said, there are four camps left with a minimum of two matches for each gathering. We hope to have nine friendly matches. The ideal would be to have ten preparation matches.
After the title of African champion, is an Olympic medal possible, regardless of its color?
We must go with this hope. As I said at the beginning, the most important thing was to win this African Cup and to break this idea that we could not win. Being champion of Africa, we have this responsibility to represent our country and Africa well. We feel like we can win a medal at the Olympics. We will go to the Olympics with this idea of winning. We are going to do everything, we are going to prepare to make our people proud. You have to have this ambition. This is what we try to instill in the players. We have the ability to win a medal.