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Hicham Zerouali Remembered

December 4, 2014 3:00 pm Author: Aberdeen FC

It is now ten years since the tragic passing of Hicham Zerouali who was killed in a motor accident in Rabat on 6th December 2004. The RedMatchday team look back at the magical Moroccan’s stay and impact in the North East of Scotland.

Few Aberdeen players over the years who have walked through the oak doors at Pittodrie have captured the imagination of the Aberdeen support as Hicham Zerouali did after joining Aberdeen in November 1999.

Former Tottenham manager Keith Burkinshaw may never have been the greatest appointment the Dons have made through the years, but the Aberdeen Director of Football and occasional international scout did discover a young Moroccan player with a sensational style.

Burkinshaw announced Hicham's arrival: “Zerouali is a natural. He has pace and power and close control that will make him a sensation in Scotland. Zerouali has all the attributes to succeed and realise his international ambitions. The Aberdeen support will take to this guy.”

Born in Morocco on 17th January 1977, Hicham started his career with Yaakoub El Mansour before joining Police Union and eventually Fus Rabat where he attracted the attention of Aberdeen and several other European clubs.

Aberdeen by tradition embrace the more skilful players and hero worship beckons for those who succeed.
Hicham Zerouali's arrival after a £450,000 transfer from Fus Rabat came as Aberdeen were really struggling at the foot of the SPL under new manager Ebbe Skovdahl. Hailed as almost saviour like, there was immense pressure on Zerouali as he tried to adapt to the Scottish game.

It was on the 8th of December 1999 that Hicham made his first team debut shortly after arriving in Scotland. Coming on as a second half substitute against Hearts, the Pittodrie crowd acclaimed Hicham who responded immediately with a succession of flicks, turns and stylish ball control. There was no 'fancy Dan' approach here; Zerouali was the real deal and he laid on two goals as the Dons went on to a 3-1 win. The Moroccan international made the kind of impact not seen since Han Gillhaus arrived from PSV in 1989 and Zoltan Varga from Hertha Berlin during the 70s.

The difficulty for Zerouali was that Aberdeen as a team were under massive pressure. After spending a considerable amount in the transfer market, the Dons were rooted to the bottom of the SPL. However there was respite in the domestic cups as Aberdeen made progress in both the League and Scottish Cup with Zerouali making an impact.

The Moroccan wrote his name into the Aberdeen history books when he scored the clubs 700th goal in the Scottish Cup; typically an unbelievable free kick against St Mirren in Paisley that set Aberdeen up for a win in the replay. The hype that was now building over Hicham was infectious; hundreds of Aberdeen supporters were seen wearing the traditional Moroccan fez headgear at Pittodrie. Every time Hicham was on the ball there was a buzz around the old place as everyone knew they had a special talent in their midst. Zerouali helped the Dons to reach both cup finals that season although they were both to end in disappointment against either half of the Old Firm.

In the League Cup semi final against Dundee Utd, there was a taste of things to come as Hicham found himself on the end of a succession of brutal challenges which went largely unpunished. Very much like Jimmy Smith, Zoltan Varga and Gordon Strachan before him, Zerouali was given scant protection from the 'accepted' approach by opponents in Scotland. Those fears came to a head at Fir Park on 27th August 2000 when a strong challenge by Motherwell's Ged Brannan broke Hicham's ankle. That injury not only robbed Aberdeen of their new-found mercurial talent but it also meant that Zerouali's international ambitions were in ruins – Hicham's enforced absence meant he also missed playing for Morocco at the Sydney Olympic Games.

After several months on the sidelines, 'Zero' as he was now known and sporting the number '0' on his shirt after the SPL granted special permission, returned to the Aberdeen side.

While the trademark somersault goal celebrations were still there, for many onlookers it was thought that Hicham was never quite the same player after his injury.

One of the highlights for Aberdeen fans was their particular interest in the African Nations Cup in Mali in 2002. Zero was inspirational for his Morocco side as he scored both goals in a 2-1 win over Burkina Faso. Hicham went on to play for his country on 17 occasions, scoring three goals.

It would be difficult to tell if Zerouali fell out of love with the Scottish game, but by 2002 it soon became clear that he was looking to move on. After a protracted spell of speculation Hicham was signed by Al Nasr from the United Arab Emirates after his Aberdeen contract had ended.

In 2003 he returned to his native Rabat in an effort to revive his international career. At the time of the accident Hicham was playing for his Royal Armed Forces side and scored twice for them the day before the accident.

Hicham Zerouali only ever played 48 games for Aberdeen in his short but eventful Pittodrie career. Players come and go but class is permanent and 'Zero' will always have a special place in the hearts of the Red Army.

RedTV | tribute to Hicham please click here

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