‘It’s an honour to be right here’: Xavi on a mission to provide Qatar a workforce to be pleased with | Soccer

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The gulf between Qatar’s rank within the world soccer hierarchy and its vaulting, nation-building challenge to host the World Cup in 2022, is illustrated by the report of its nationwide workforce. The “supreme committee” organising the World Cup makes essentially the most of celebrating Qatar’s soccer historical past, which is an enchanting instance of sports activities having been taken all world wide by British and European employees – right here, within the oil and fuel industries. Replicating a worldwide phenomenon, native folks within the colonies or buying and selling nations have been launched to sports activities, and golf equipment have been shaped on the European mannequin.

It was solely in 1970, the yr of Brazil’s third World Cup triumph within the celebrated Mexico match lit up by Pelé, that Qatar even established a nationwide workforce in any respect. That was a yr earlier than the nation gained independence, beneath the rule of the al-Thani dynasty, from its standing as a British protectorate. When its World Cup bid workforce, chaired by Sheikh Mohammed, the son of the then emir (ruler) Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, claimed the well-known Fifa vote in December 2010, Qatar grew to become the primary nation since 1934 to host a World Cup with out ever having certified for one.

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Now, together with the $8bn to $10bn being spent on constructing seven new stadiums and on reconfiguring the Khalifa Worldwide stadium, and the $200bn on transport and common infrastructure, the Qataris are dedicating assets to make sure their nationwide workforce – ranked 96th on this planet – is not going to be embarrassed in 2022. The previous Barcelona and Spain midfield legend Xavi has been in Doha since his retirement from elite competitors in 2015, taking part in for the Al Sadd membership and serving to to develop younger gamers, roles for which he’s paid a reported £7m annual wage.

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Speaking on the Al Sadd Stadium after his workforce’s 7-1 destruction of strugglers Al Kharaitiyat within the Qatar Stars League on eight November, Xavi mentioned it was “improbable” to be an envoy for Qatar. “My household and I are very blissful right here and I’m very grateful for the nation,” he mentioned. “My daughter was born right here and my spouse is because of have one other child right here. It’s an honour to be right here.”

Of the league and its taking part in requirements, Xavi mentioned: “Now it’s enhancing so much. Once I got here right here three years in the past, the league was completely different, the extent was I feel much less, now it has improved so much as a result of the overseas gamers are higher than earlier than, the coaches are higher, I feel they’re doing nicely. And it’s good for the Qatari gamers; they will study many issues from the overseas gamers.”

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The partnerships with Barcelona have been deep and costly; Qatar Basis was the Catalan membership’s first shirt sponsor, adopted by a €171m cope with Qatar Airways from 2010 till final yr. Pep Guardiola, like Xavi, completed his taking part in profession in Qatar, and was recruited to be one of many World Cup’s bid ambassadors after the nation launched it in March 2009.

Félix Sánchez Bas, the nationwide workforce supervisor, is a former Barcelona youth coach who first moved to work within the Aspire academy system in Doha 12 years in the past. Below his tutelage, the workforce are making important strides: they beat Switzerland 1-Zero in a pleasant final week and drew 2-2 with Iceland on Monday. The latter match was performed on the Kehrwegstadion of the Belgian membership Eupen, one in every of three European golf equipment purchased by the Aspire system as growth grounds for younger gamers.





Some of the 400 fans at the Al Sadd game on 8 November.



A number of the 400 followers on the Al Sadd recreation on eight November. {Photograph}: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian

The tiny Gulf emirate of solely 300,000 residents – and 1.7m migrant employees largely from India, Nepal and Bangladesh – has inevitably struggled to discipline a aggressive workforce from so small a youth inhabitants. Since embarking on its technique of nationwide projection after Sheikh Hamad usurped his father, Sheikh Khalifa, in 1995, the nationwide soccer workforce have made fulsome use of Fifa’s qualification standards, which makes gamers eligible if they’ve lived in a rustic for 5 years from the age of 18.

Of the beginning XI who performed Iceland on Monday, 4 gamers have been born outdoors Qatar: the defenders Bonalem Rhoukhi (Algeria), and Ró-Ró (Portugal); the midfielder Karim Boudiaf (France), and the ahead Almoez Ali (Sudan). The cash, assets and decided technique being channelled into growth have enormously improved requirements among the many Qatar-born gamers too. The striker Akram Afif, 22, is taken into account the star and is again on mortgage at Al Sadd after graduating by way of the Aspire academy, taking part in for Eupen after which signing for Villareal in 2016.

Optimism on the workforce’s prospects for holding its personal after they play the primary World Cup match on the 80,000 capability Lusail Iconic Stadium on 21 November, 2022, has been boosted by Qatar qualifying for subsequent yr’s Below-20 World Cup in Poland.

“The brand new generations are completely different from the outdated one,” Xavi instructed us. “As a result of I feel a very powerful factor is Aspire. It began in 2006 and [so] the brand new era are extra skilled. I feel they’re getting ready nicely. They’ve an excellent coach now within the nationwide workforce, Félix Sánchez, I do know him very nicely. In fact it isn’t simple to play in opposition to the large groups – Brazil, Spain – however a minimum of I feel they may compete nicely in 2022. Additionally they’ve time, they’ve 4 years to arrange nicely, however let’s see.”

Given the supreme committee’s pitch about Qatar’s ardour for soccer and the presence of Xavi, nonetheless a supreme short- and long-passing grasp, in great dotage at this native membership, it was sobering to see a crowd of solely 400 on the Al Sadd match. Notices on the stadium prescribed “modest” gown, the followers have been all males, and the ambiance was a lame affair of half-hearted songs orchestrated by organised drumming and cheerleaders.

Xavi mentioned he doesn’t thoughts taking part in in an empty floor as a result of he nonetheless loves soccer however acknowledged the shortage of spectators is an issue. Some Qataris, we have been instructed, are extra inclined to take a flight to observe Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain or a Premier League match than help the common QSL match.

“It’s a pity,” Xavi mentioned. “Within the Emir cup, within the [Asian] Champions League, the stadium was full. It will depend on the sport. Right now, OK, it’s a simple recreation for us and folks keep at dwelling to observe the sport [on TV]. Typically the crowds are usually not so massive. We’ve got to search out some resolution to excite the folks to come back for this type of recreation. I don’t know the way.”

He was clear he believes the 2022 World Cup, within the agreeable temperature of the desert winter, shall be an awesome success; the stadiums brilliantly designed, the organisation deliberate in nice element and infinitely well-resourced.

“They’re getting ready nicely, they’d a few years to arrange, all the development, the stadiums; folks listed below are excited. As a result of it’s in December, the gamers shall be in higher health, the [move to winter] I feel is an excellent resolution, this climate is improbable, 25, 30 levels. I feel will probably be the most effective World Cups in historical past.”

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