Just a few months ago, Walid Cheddira was an illustrious unknown. Now, he is preparing to take part in the World Cup in Qatar, alongside Morocco, his parents’ home country.
Coppa Italia is not exactly the best example of meritocracy. The system is made in such a way that the small teams do not have many chances, nor are they encouraged to play the ones they have, so everything is played between the big clubs. And yet, there are moments, in the initial stages of the competition, when the foreground is taken by the beautiful story of an outsider. This season, the beautiful story has been Walid Cheddira, whose meteoric rise from amateurs is remarkable.
Cheddira is Italian. He was born in 1998, in Loreto, from Moroccan parents. His father, Aziz, played for the local team, and little Walid wanted to follow in his footsteps. He spent the first years of his career at obscure Serie D teams, until one of Italy’s big names, Parma, noticed him. He was 21 years old when he signed with “Ducalii”, in 2019. He did not stay with Ennio Tardini, being successively loaned to Arezzo, Lecco and Mantova, each time in Serie C. In the summer of 2021, he arrived at Bari. Also in the third league, also on loan. But his luck began to change.
In the south of Italy it felt good from the start, for him and his family. He quickly became a favorite of the Baradei fans, especially since his father used to watch the matches on San Nicola from the lawn, together with the team’s harcore fans. His evolutions also helped, it’s true. He contributed with 7 goals, 3 assists and two penalties to Bari’s promotion to Serie B. He continued his good form this season, where he was transferred permanently by the Biancorossi. First, in the Italian Cup. Two goals with Padova, in a 3-0 victory, and a spectacular hat-trick for Bentegodi against Verona (4-1) brought him to the attention of the Italian media. And, with the 5 goals scored, he is still the top scorer of the current edition, which Bari has already left. Ironically, after a failure against Parma (0-1).
But the performances in the Coppa Italia gave him morale and created a state of mind that Cheddira and Bari exploited in the Championship. Although newly promoted, the formation from the south of Italy has promotion ambitions. For now, it’s on the play-off spot, and the star of the team is no stranger to this path. Galvanized by the call-up to the Morocco national team in September, when he played 49 minutes in friendlies with Chile and Paraguay, the 24-year-old striker is having an excellent season, which is confirmed by the numbers. He has 14 goals and 5 assists in just 15 appearances in all competitions, being the top scorer in Serie B with 9 goals.
In this way, Cheddira showed that the road from anonymity to the World Cup is not as long as it might seem. When Walid Regragui announced Morocco’s Qatar 2022 squad alongside established names such as Yassine Bounou (Sevilla), Achraf Hakimi (PSG), Noussair Mazraoui (Bayern Munchen), Sofyan Amrabat (Fiorentina), Soufiane Boufal (Angers), Amine Harit (Olympique Marseille), Youssef En-Nesyri (Sevilla) or Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea), there was also a boy who, until a few months ago, had not played above the third Italian league.
“It’s a feeling that can be described in one word, because it’s every child’s dream to participate in the World Cup when they start playing football. It’s something extraordinary and it’s an honor to represent your country in such a competition,” said Cheddira, after learning he would be going to Qatar.
Given the names in Morocco’s attack, Cheddira’s chances of getting minutes on the pitch are probably slim. Especially since the “Atlas Lions” are part of a group that will not allow many experiments. The Africans will play against world runner-up Croatia, last year’s 3rd place finisher Belgium and up-and-coming national team Canada. But the Bari striker’s career has already changed forever and everything that follows from now on is just a bonus. Plus, he’s already proven that he knows he’s ready to take any chance that comes his way and make the most of it.