MENA Sports Wrap: Morocco snaps up Real Madrid legend

MENA Sports Wrap: Morocco snaps up Real Madrid legend
Morocco now have Brahim Diaz in the squad after the Real Madrid midfielder swapped sides from Spain to the Atlas Lions.
6 min read
15 March, 2024
The MENA region witnessed another action-packed week of sport [Getty/TNA]

There has been plenty of action in the (Arab) world of sport this week, with the Morocco national side snatching up one of the best players in La Liga.

Lebanon is mourning the death of a footballer, who was killed in an Israeli attack, while there is continued debate in French football over fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

Meanwhile Chelsea and Oman Air appear to have parted ways, leading to a possible financial black hole for the West London club.

Adios Espana, Hola Marruecos

Real Madrid midfielder Brahim Diaz has opted to play for Morocco at international level earlier this week, after years of speculation and ardent persuasion from the Moroccan football federation.

Diaz, born in Malaga to a Spanish mother and Moroccan father, has so far represented his country of birth on various youth levels on the international stage.

The Real Madrid attacking midfielder earned one cap at a senior level for Spain, having played in 2021 in an international friendly against Lithuania, where he bagged a goal.

Diaz will now make his senior debut for the Atlas Lions in two upcoming friendly games against Angola and Mauritania later this month, after being called up by coach Walid Regragui.

Diaz had previously alluded to discontent and frustration with the Spanish football federation (RFEF), which failed to select him despite making a name for himself in European football with successful stints at Manchester City, AC Milan and now Real Madrid. Sources also said that Diaz’s decision was down to Spain’s "wait-and-see-attitude".

The RFEF, however, said that they treated Diaz the same as any other player who had the opportunity to "represent more than one nation" on the international stage, ESPN said.

Spanish coach Luis de la Fuente said he respects Diaz’s position, and that "everyone is free to make their own decisions".

Several Spanish outlets accused de la Fuente of being reluctant to guarantee Diaz a spot in the Spanish national team, leading Diaz to choose to represent Morocco.

The US sports website also revealed that Regragui was central to the Real Madrid player's decision, and that the Moroccan federation (RMFF) carried out a number of calls and in-person meetings to convince Diaz.

Morocco had attempted to persuade Diaz to represent the North Africa side as far as back as 2018, just before Russia hosted the FIFA World Cup.

Diaz’s switch to Morocco was well received by Moroccan fans and players alike.

Achraf Hakimi, another Spanish-born player who represents the Atlas Lions, posted on social media an image of Diaz with the caption "welcome to your home" in both Spanish and Arabic.

France's Muslim players still not allowed to break fast mid-match as Ramadan begins

The French Football Federation (FFF) has prohibited Muslim players from breaking their Ramadan fast mid game, French media reported earlier this week.

The FFF’s Federal Referees Commission (CFA) said it would maintain its decision for a second consecutive year after it emailed officials last year confirming matches could not be interrupted to allow Muslim players to break their fast.

CFA President Eric Borghini said the commission will not renew its recommendations to "avoid any form of provocation", French outlet RMC Sport reported.

The Commission warned that if referees don’t adhere to the rule, it would consider sending out a reminder.

The FFF has previously stated that "a football field, or any sporting venue" are not places to exercise "political and religious expressions", but rather places where "neutrality, secularism and non-discrimination" must be implemented.

In the English Premier League, however, football matches are halted to give Muslim players a window to break their fast.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began on Monday, where capable Muslims will be abstaining from food, water and other physical needs from sunrise until sunset.

Ramadan can prove challenging for some Muslim football players, with many choosing what they consume meticulously in a bid to keep up with the expected standard of fitness.

Some footballers also opt out of fasting, due to the physical challenges it may present on match days.

Concerns for Chelsea as Oman Air deal falls through

A sponsorship agreement between Oman Air and Chelsea Football Club reportedly fell through last week, with both parties mute on the reason.

The West London side announced in July a multi-year deal with the sultanate's national carrier, which would see a co-branded Oman Air plane with Chelsea livery, along with extensive branding across Stamford Bridge. 

Plans were also revealed for shirt and sleeve sponsorship, in Oman Air's first-ever football deal that marked the 30th anniversary of the carrier.

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Oman Air had snatched up a bargain paying just £2 million over 12 months to one of the world's best known clubs for extensive coverage. The collapse of the deal comes as Chelsea find their form in the Premier League under highly-respected manager Mauricio Pochettino after a rocky start to the season.

For Chelsea, which reported a £90m ($115m) pre-tax loss between June 2022 and June 2023, the small financial gains from this were paramount amid talk of plans for a player off-load during the summer due to possible breaches of financial fair play rules.

The Telegraph reported that Chelsea claimed the sponsorship break-down came from Oman Air but with no official explanation from either side there is plenty of speculation and mystery about the reasons.

Oman Air is no longer listed on the Chelsea website as an official partner and it could leave the cash-strapped Premier League side without an official airline, front-of-shirt, and sleeve sponsorship for next season.

Lebanese footballer killed in Israeli strike 

A Lebanese football player was killed in an Israeli airstrike targeting a town in the Bekaa Valley on Monday evening, according to Lebanese media reports.

Mustafa Gharib, a defender for the Lebanese Second Division side Shabab Baalbeck SC, had recently captained the team to promotion into the Lebanese Premier League for the first time in the club’s history.

The young player was killed while visiting a friend’s house, when Israel targeted the village of Ansar, on the southern outskirts of Baalbek.

In matches since the beginning of Israel’s war on Gaza last year, Gharib had taken to wearing a special captain’s armband with the Palestinian flag emblazoned over it, in a show of solidarity with Gazans.

Some of Lebanon’s biggest football clubs paid tribute to Gharib, with Beirut side Al Ansar saying it sends its "deepest condolences in the martyrdom of its leader Mustafa Gharib, and consoles his family in their great loss".

Their Beirut rivals Nejmeh followed suit, writing the club extends its deepest condolences from the Lebanese football family to the Baalbek Youth Club on the "martyrdom of the team captain Mustafa Ghareeb, the effect of … Israeli hostility against the city of Baalbek".

The killing of Gharib comes on the same day that Palestinian footballer Mohammed Barakat was killed when an Israeli airstrike hit his home in Gaza's southern city of Khan Younis