We aren’t going to talk about football. Forget about that right now.
I want to tell you about me — Amine. I feel like maybe you don’t know me that well right now. But you will one day. I’m going to make sure of that. And when you do, you can remember this story and say some fun facts about me to impress the people around you.
O.K., let’s start with some basics.
I’m Moroccan-French. I was born in Pontoise, just north of Paris. That was where it all began.
My dad, mum, brother and sister and I all lived in a small house together. They were my team, my everything. In Pontoise, you need your team. Because back in the early 2000s, it wasn’t the safest town. My parents wouldn’t let me and my brother play too far from the front door of our home. If we got more than maybe 15 feet away, my mum would come out and yell.
“Amine! You see that sidewalk there? You stay on this side of it!”
Pontoise is a pretty nice town today. But not back then. If you were living — not just surviving — you had to have that street mentality. Like O.K., it’s one thing to just survive. You know? You can survive in a tough area, hide out, just go about your business, do your thing. But I’m Amine, I’m trying to live! I wanted to know my town, I wanted to play football in the streets, I wanted to make friends. All that stuff.
So I needed that street mentality.
Here’s an example: The school I went to when I was 14 years old ended at six every night. And most parents would walk over to pick up their kids to make sure they got home. But I made Mum let me walk home alone. Because, well … maybe I’m not exactly sure why I did it. But I wanted to be tough. And instead of going right home, most nights I’d go to the football pitch. I had these raggedy, old football boots with laces that were way too long. I’d have to tie them up around my ankle four or five times over. I looked ridiculous. Ridiculous. Anyway, I’d play in those for an hour or so, beat ’em up real good and then go home.
Mum would be upset. But I feel like every time I did it, she sort of understood me a bit more. Like I needed to do that for myself — to prove I could handle this place.
Sam Robles/The Players' TribuneI’d come home and Dad would be there watching TV. He would be tired after having worked at a hospital all day. Mum was a secretary. They worked hard for our family. But sometimes it wasn’t enough. I remember, toward the end of some months, we’d sit down to to dinner and there wouldn’t be enough to go around — we had to save money for rent. That’s just how it went. In the moment, you understand it. But now, when I think back — man, that was some tough stuff.
It gives me perspective now, as a footballer. Why I’m here, what I’m doing — I feel like I have purpose.
That’s why I have to laugh when people ask, “Amine, why don’t you play for France? Is it because it’s easier just to play for Morocco and make the team?”
That’s not it. That’s not it all.
I love France. It’s given me everything in my life. But Morocco … Moroccans, those are my people, too. I feel this connection to the country that I can’t fully explain. France gave me so much, but my family is my everything. And they’re Moroccan. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins — so many of them still live in Morocco. So when I had to choose who I wanted to play for, I felt indebted to those people.
Remember how I said I had a street mentality? It takes a lot for me to get emotional. But when I was playing for the national team this past summer and we beat the Ivory Coast 2–0 to qualify for the World Cup … I cried. I really did. So much. Tears of joy. And when we arrived back in Morocco, the support we had when we landed was so, so incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. I want that again. I want it a million times over.
I want to bring joy to Morocco.
Everything I do is for my family. And if you’re from Morocco, you’re my family.
Now you know a bit on me — Amine. So I hope you remember a few of those things.
Because I’m only 21. There’s more to come.
Believe that. And remember that, too.