Soccer and Qatar

16 Aug 2014

Qatar’s love for soccer has been well known around the world. More than a decade ago they made their interest known to the world by investing into European soccer and by getting in talent from Europe to train their home team. With a native population of only 300,000, Qatar simply did not have enough young players to form a team that could hope to compete with the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Germany. Qatar has started looking outside including African nations to identify talent that will be recruited to play for the national team.

For all its scope, Qatar’s international soccer machine was built largely on the word of one man: Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani, the brother of the emir and the most soccer-mad member of the royal family. The Qatari royal family is determined to morph its small nation of 1.8 million (1.5 million of whom are expatriates) into a modern-day player on all fronts: education, architecture, culture and sports. There is even a formal plan, Qatar National Vision 2030, which pledges that the country will become “an advanced society” within 16 years.

In 2007, the academy created Aspire Football Dreams, a self-described humanitarian effort to give struggling African countries more opportunities through soccer. The program brings African teenagers to Qatar to give them training while competing against young Qatari athletes. The softer part of Qatar’s football influence is spread by the Aspire academy, an extraordinary talent-spotting programme which claims to assess 400,000 young footballers a year across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Promising young players are scrutinised at centres throughout Africa, and in Paraguay, Thailand and Vietnam. Last year Aspire bought a club in the Belgian second division, KAS Eupen, which is being used to give first-team senior experience to promising graduates from the Senegal and Doha academies. The quality of the Aspire facilities attracts leading clubs and their academies, including Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Everton and Liverpool in recent years, to go to Doha for warm weather training or to compete in junior competitions.

The love for the game has taken over the whole nation like a fever with children being inspired to join soccer clubs that have sprouted across the country at a very quick pace. Qatar’s ambition to make its mark on the world scene in sports is what has fuelled this extreme pace at which the soccer fever is growing in the country. Many coaches have been taken in from European Nations and also many clubs in Europe are invested into by the Qatari royal family. This has given the nation the required access to talent and learning opportunities it needs to grow a home team.

The result of this exercise is seen in the performance of the Qatari team at the friendly matches they have been holding in the recent times which has helped give the team the visibility and recognition they would need on an international platform.

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