Sport is littered with tales of otherworldly performances in homage to a lost teammate or departing comrade. At the moment in England, Liverpool, with the Premier League title clearly unavailable, are being driven by the prospect of giving skipper Steven Gerrard an FA Cup final trophy to send him on his way from Anfield to the lucre-filled pastures of LA Galaxy.
Sadly for Madjid Bougherra, there won’t be an Africa Cup of Nations medal in his cabinet. The Algeria skipper said his farewell to the national team on Sunday night following their 3-1 quarter-final defeat to Côte d’Ivoire.
“It’s a different life for me now,” said the 33-year-old defender. “Of course you can never say 'I’ll never play again' for the national team. But in my mind I think it’s over. It’s been 11 years and I think the team is ready to be without me. They have experience.”
Bougherra started his domestic career in 2002 at the French second division outfit FC Gueugnon.
But it was in Britain where he found success. After spells at the English second tier teams Crewe Alexandra and Sheffield Wednesday, he moved to Scotland to play for Glasgow Rangers. With them he won three Scottish titles, two Scottish Cups and two Scottish League Cups. He also featured in the side’s campaigns in the UEFA Champions League. For the past three years he has been plying his trade in the Middle East at Lekhwiya and Al Fujaïrah. With his national team, there have been trips to the world cup and the Cup of Nations. “I’ve done my job,” he said. “I’m proud of what I’ve done but I think it is enough for me.”
Bougherra leaves the team in rude health. They are the continent’s highest-ranked side following their surge to the last 16 at the world cup in Brazil. Coming into the Africa Cup of Nations, they were the team to beat.
In their first Group C game against South Africa, they were staring down the barrel at a 2-0 deficit. Fortunately for the north Africans, Tokelo Rantie missed the penalty. Algeria recovered and eventually won 3-1. They weren’t so fortunate against Ghana. Asamoah Gyan scored in the last minute to salvage his side’s Cup of Nations adventure.
In the final Group C game, with Algeria leading Senegal and Ghana drawing with South Africa, it appeared Algeria would advance as group winners into the quarter finals. André Ayew’s winner for Ghana in the 83rd minute meant they qualified for the last eight in pole position and Algeria fell to second.
“We were in a hard group with Senegal, Ghana and South Africa,” said Bougherra. “And after you get through that you get Cote D’Ivoire. So it’s not easy. But this is football and we’ve got to accept it. In Africa it’s so different to Europe. This is the charm of Africa.”
After successive trips to the world cup in 2010 and 2014, the next aim is qualification for the 2018 tournament in Russia. There is also the 2017 Cup of Nations.
Bougherra said: “When I started we were something like 100 in the rankings and now we are in the top 20 and top in Africa I’ve no regrets about what I’ve done in the national team.”
Recalling his best moments playing for his nation, he said his assist for a goal in his first game in 2003 for the under 23s stood out, as well as his equaliser against Cote D’Ivoire during the 3-2 win in the quarter-final of the 2010 Cup of Nations.
There were only four goals in 70 odd caps, so it’s not surprising he remembered that particular strike.
There have been nine coaches leading the team since Bougherra broke into the senior squad.
And it is with some experience of upheaval that the veteran suggests Christian Gourcuff be given time to continue with his work. “Of course, it’s not up to me. But we need stability in any job. Stability is very important. We have qualifiers for the next world cup and the next Cup of Nations so it’s not really the time to change.”
Whether the top brass in the Algerian football association concur remains to be seen. What is clear that Bougherra leaves with the admiration of the fans and his fellow players. There will be a friendly match in March in which he can lead the team for one last time to say a proper farewell to the faithful.
“This team is very young. They have good quality players and year after year they will progress and learn and I hope that in the next cup of nations they are going to win it.”