What makes a cult football hero?
Every fan worshiped one by following their team, but he wasn’t necessarily the team’s best player.
And they weren’t a club legend either – the type of loyal servants who end up with statues out of the ground.
But a cult hero requires several ingredients that differentiate him from other players and above all he earns a place in the hearts of supporters.
The fact that they often aren’t the star of the team is something that earns them cult hero status, but their commitment makes up for any lack of quality.
There’s usually a weakness that stands out and there’s a “What could have been?” without these flaws.
Then again, if it hadn’t been for that weakness – or those weaknesses – chances are they wouldn’t have been at your club!
Arriving from foreign shores, but adapting to the local culture, is usually another factor in cult heroes that adds to that magic and mystery and cements the special bond with the fans.
This week Save sport will look at some of Scottish football’s biggest cult heroes of the 2000s.
And kicking off our series is Moroccan Hicham Zerouali who spent three years with Aberdeen after arriving from Saudi Arabia in 1999 and became a favorite but it’s also a story of tragedy after he was killed in a car accident, at only 27 years old.
How did he end up in Scotland?
Aberdeen manager Ebbe Skovdahl signed Zerouali in November 1999 from Moroccan side FUS Rabat.
They paid a £450,000 fee after the recommendation of the club’s director of football, Keith Burkinshaw.
Why did fans love him so much?
When Zerouali moved to Granite City, the Dons were embroiled in a relegation battle with a lot of pressure on their new signing to deliver.
And that’s exactly what he did.
In his early days, he dazzled the Pittodrie crowd with his flicks, tricks and talent, making an instant impression on the crowd.
He replaced Robbie Winters on the hour mark as the scores were tied at 1-1 in a draw with Hearts, and within minutes he helped score two goals as Aberdeen beat the side of Georgia 3-1.
Zerouali went on to score one of the most memorable goals in AFC history with an incredible 35-yard free-kick against St Mirren in January 2000 – incidentally Aberdeen’s 700th goal in the Scottish Cup. It was one of the best strikes you will ever see and would guide the Dons to the League and Scottish Cup finals that season.
What moment cemented his status as a cult hero?
Pittodrie de Zerouali’s record over two-and-a-half seasons reads 48 played, 13 goals, but it was the sheer quality of the spectacle, like spectacular volleys into the top corners rather than close range strikes, that allowed the Gifts of getting up to worship the Moroccan.
He also became the first and only player to wear the number ‘0’ on the back of his shirt in Scottish top flight history. Wearing the number ‘0’ would be banned by the Scottish FA shortly thereafter.
Although he may not be a club legend, the Red Army will always remember the little magician as one of the most gifted players to ever step into an Aberdeen shirt.
Where did he go after Pittodrie?
Zerouali was instrumental in securing a fourth-place finish for the Dons in the 2001/02 season.
After his contract at Aberdeen expired in July 2002, Zerouali moved to play football in the United Arab Emirates with Al-Nassr for a year before returning to live in his native country in 2003, to sign for former rivals FAR Rabat, where he won the Throne Cup that year.
He was killed in his hometown of Rabat in 2004 after his car lost control and slammed into a tree the day after he scored twice for his club, the Royal Armed Forces, in a football match. championship.