MUSTAPHA HADJI

Date of Birth: 16 November, 1973
Nationality: Morocco (international)
Period at Deportivo: 1997 (December) - 1999
Transfer: $5 million (1997, from Sporting Lisbon)
Clubs: Espanyol (2003-2004), Aston Villa (2001-2004), Coventry City (1999-2001), Deportivo (1997-1999), Sporting Lisbon (1996-1997), Nantes (1995-1996), AS Nancy (1991-1995)
Sold: £4 million (1999, to Coventry City)
Height: 184 cm
Weight: 72 kg
Position: Attacking Midfielder (left/right)

Extremely talented Moroccan international MUSTAPHA HADJI was twenty-four when he finally made his Liga debut for Deportivo in March, 1998. It took a FIFA decision because there were huge differences between what his former club (Sporting Lisbon) demanded and the Galicians were prepared to pay. In the end a commission set the transfersum at $5 million. But despite the troubles Hadji didn’t impress in Spain during his time at Deportivo.

It concerned the difficult season 1997/1998 when Hadji was signed together with Lionel Scaloni, Abreu and ‘Manteca’ Martínez. Deportivo were struggling after Rivaldo had left months earlier and the team were looking for a decent replacement. Left midfielder Hadji, known for his creativity and fantasy, didn’t felt at home at his Portuguese club and wanted to leave his club. That’s how his transfer to Deportivo came about where he was given an incredible 20.000 million pesetas buy-out clause (almost €130 million). Deportivo had learned their lesson from the Rivaldo-case.

But while the other new signings made their debut in January 1998, Hadji had to wait for two more months when he finally was given permission by the FIFA. That month he was given a provisional transfer and he replaced Flávio Conceiçao during a 2-1 home win against Real Oviedo. Hadji declared to be “very satisfied this waiting has ended” and showed his “gratitude to the president of Deportivo for all he has done for me to play at this club. I wanted to help them as soon as possible”.

The final transfersum Deportivo finally had to pay for him in May was more than they expected, although Hadji had quickly conquered a starting place in Corral’s team. After his debut he missed only one match, because of an injury, and started eight matches that campaign.

The highlight of his career appeared that summer of 1998 during the World Cup played in France. He had made his debut for the Moroccan national team during a match in which his country qualified for the World Cup 1994. Four years later he had become one of their leaders and scored a memorable goal against Norway (2-2) during the tournament group phase. Hadji played very inspired that tournament and his future seemed to look bright.

Back at his club many things were changing. Javier Irureta had arrived and a huge renovation of the squad took place. Fran was given preference at the left while new signing Ziani immediately impressed at the right wing. With Djalminha occupying the playmaker’s role there was nothing else to do for Hadji to wait for his opportunities to arrive.

Hadji played a reasonable total of twenty-one matches during the season 1998/1999, Irureta’s first at the club, but started only eleven of them. This had much to do with the good form of Fran, while the displays of Hadji were disappointing. He did score two important goals that campaign: minutes after having come on as a substitute against Barcelona (a 2-1 win) and a winner as a substitute in Riazor against Zaragoza (2-1). He also scored two goals in the Copa del Rey against little Jerez de los Caballeros

His last match for the club he played on 20 June, 1999 at Real Madrid. While Deportivo still had an opportunity to qualify for Champions League football Hadji looked to play his own game and within minutes in the second half was replaced by Javier Manjarín. All in all at Deportivo he didn’t give the performances of a player named ‘African Player of the Year’ in 1998.

As Hadji didn’t fit anymore in the plans of Irureta, there was no hesitation when a £4 million bid of Coventry City arrived. The Spanish game hadn’t been a success for Hadji, but in the Premiership he finally flourished. He scored six goals in the season 1999/2000 for them and set up many others with his dribbling skills. He scored another six goals in the season 2000/2001, but even his two goals at Aston Villa couldn’t avoid a defeat (3-2) and finally ended City's stay in the top flight.

Despite their relegation to Division One Hadji vowed to stay at Highfield Road. But when Aston Villa made a £4.5 million bid Coventry found it too hard to reject their advances - especially as they were offering Julian Joachim in return. Despite interest from Bayern Munich, Hadji eventually signed for Aston Villa in July 2001. But he struggled with injury in the second half of his first season at the club. This hampered his bid to hold down a regular first team spot and Hadji had a difficult time at the club.

After just eleven Premiership matches in his second season at Aston Villa and one during the season 2003/2004 he moved back to Spain to play at Espanyol that same season. At the age of thirty he played sixteen Liga matches for them including during their 2-0 win against Deportivo on 9 May, 2004.
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