As a child, Rachid Mekhloufi witnessed the French authorities carry out the Setif massacre in his home country of Algeria, which left thousands of people dead.

It marks one of the darkest chapters in the history of Algeria and France and it defined Mekhloufi's sports career.

Risking all to believe in what is just ... Giving up glory to fight for a cause ... Forgetting a career to join a revolution ... In 1958, that's what Rachid Mekhloufi did ... Taking the risk to avoid regret. Becoming the symbol of a struggle ... And playing, playing, playing. Using football as a propaganda tool.

-Eric Cantona

Mekhloufi played football for France's national team, but in 1958, the AS Saint Etienne striker stealthily left France to join the FLN football team and play for Algerian independence.

Leading Algerian players in the French league formed a national team for the 1958 World Cup – a team for the FLN, Algeria’s liberation front.

Risking all to do what he believed was right, Mekhloufi, along with nine other comrades, became a symbol of a political struggle and wore the colours of a country that was yet to exist: Algeria.

He says: "I was a bit like the spoilt child of football and of Saint-Etienne. But I saw and heard things. All Algerians, even the most spoilt, in Algeria or in France, had to think of Algeria. Algerians were never thought of as French ....

"The moment I left, the page was turned. For me personally the page was turned because I knew I could never play for France or for Saint-Etienne again .... What I got out of that FLN team couldn't have been bought with all the gold in the world."


About the series:

As the global sporting world faces one corruption scandal after another, former Manchester United star Eric Cantona presents the stories of five football heroes whose social conscience led them to challenge unjust regimes, join opposition movements and lead the fight for democracy and human rights.  Football Rebels  looks at a side of football that does not always make the headlines. 

Source: Al Jazeera