La Masia in the Qatari Peninsula

Aerial view of qatar's sprawling Aspire Academy, Doha

Quality is what Colombia has with coffee, what the Swiss has with chocolate and watches, what Barcelona has with football and now to add to them all, what the Qatar government does with football too.

The 2019 edition of the recently concluded Asian Cup had baffled all of football pundits alike as well as the players themselves. Major teams which had boasted of world class talents like Sardar Azmoun, Heung Min Son and Takashi Inui were set to take over the spotlight at the tournament. But no one would have predicted how the tournament would unfold.  The tournament was set in all sense to be a global spectacle for the big teams to show their footballing might to the world.  But all was set to change on Jan 9th in Hazza bin Zayed stadium, Abu Dhabi

The footballing scenario in Asia had largely been dominated by four footballing powerhouses such as Japan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and South Korea, who had 12 titles between them,  but none of them could’ve shown the consistency that Qatar was to show in thes tournament. They comfortably beat Lebanon, Korea DPR, and Saudi Arabia to go to the top of their group, without even conceding a goal in the group stages. They then cruised their way through the tournament by defeating Iraq, and heavyweights Korea Republic.  In the semifinals, they comprehensively overcame hosts UAE four goals to Nil.  In the final against highly fancied Japan, they performed brilliantly to post a historic 3-1 win, the first ever goal that they’ve conceded in the entire tournament. Alimoez Ali broke the record for scoring the most goals in an AFC Asian Cup, overtaking Ali Daei of Iran. Overall,  the footballing world was stunned by what they’ve seen at the tournament.

The overall success of the team goes way back to its footballing infrastructure. Even though geographically Qatar is a very small country, it is very rich in resources such as oil and natural gas like many GCC countries.  But what makes Qatar far different from other countries is how they have used the surplus financial resources at their disposal to create a footballing enterprise. Qatar Sports Investments, which operates the Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain, has created the team into one of the most competitive clubs in Europe of current times.  Also, the Aspire Academy in Qatar (a la La Masia, Barcelona's youth football breeding academy producing scores of footballers)  has given the edge in footballing talent to the Arab world. The recruitment of Felix Sanchez Bas, the former Barcelona youth team coach to create an identity for the upcoming pool of players has been a master stroke from the management. The coach has been used (the Barca DNA has been applied) even as from the U9, U12 category, so that they will be trained to play in the specific type of manner that all great Barcelona teams play. What they really have done is that they’ve successfully outsourced the Barcelona brand of football. 

There had also been controversies along the way as well.  Eligibility of naturalized Qatari team players such as Alimoez Ali of Sudanian origin, Bassam Al-Rawi of Iraqi parentage was cited by the UAE.  But both of them being a product of the state of the art Aspire Academy does mean that they are of course Qatari players. They have been part of years of planning and dedication by the Academy to perform at the highest level.

What Qatar shows to many emerging teams in Asia is that if you have ambitions and the right planning in place,  you can certainly achieve your goals. The key is to have an identity and style in your brand of football.