In search of recognition on the international scene, Qatar will live its hour of glory by hosting the 2022 World Cup from November 20 to December 18. In order to be as competitive as possible, the Emirate did not hesitate to naturalize several players, born with another nationality.
Why naturalize players?
Qatar is a tiny country of 2.6 million people, of whom only around 400,000 are Qatari citizens, the rest are foreign workers. To make matters worse, the Emirate does not have a footballing culture and wanting to make football a profession is not necessarily very well regarded socially there. Under these conditions, with such a limited pool, composing a competitive eleven is a miracle. From then on, the idea of naturalizing foreign players in order to have a competitive team by 2022 quickly gained ground. The naturalized players of the Qatar football team, however, represent a minority, unlike the handball team, where foreigners constitute the vast majority of the workforce.
How did Qatar naturalize the players?
In the early 2000s, long before the awarding of the World Cup to the Emirate, FIFA quickly guessed Qatar’s intentions. Thus, over the years, particularly in 2008 and 2014, the governing body of the round ball has tightened the rules concerning changes of sporting nationality. In the absence of Qatari ancestors, each player who claims Qatari sporting nationality must have lived at least 3 years in Qatar if he joined the country before his 10th birthday. The minimum duration increases to 5 years for a player who arrives after his 10th birthday. And, for a player between the ages of 10 and 18, it has to be shown that the move to Qatar was not for the purpose of playing for the selection.
The Aspire Academies, Qatar’s failed parade
To accommodate this regulation, Qatar has decided to launch the “Aspire Football Dreams” program, which has led to the testing of millions of young players around the globe, especially in Africa. Officially, the objective was to help developing countries. Unofficially, the underlying idea was to identify the best talents across the planet and bring them back as soon as possible to the parent company, the Aspire Academy in Doha, in order to continue their training while making it possible to justify a certain number of years of presence on Qatari soil.
If the initial idea was ingenious and could portend a dream eleven, the successive tightening of the screw by FIFA, which has gradually tightened legalization and put many barriers to the transfer of underage players from one country to another, has more or less led to undermining this project, put on hold in 2016. In fact, the number of foreign players who have followed this path and who will represent Qatar at the World Cup will be very limited.
The list of naturalized players of Qatar
In the end, there are only 4 truly naturalized players in the qatar list for the World Cup.
The best known is the Franco-Algerian Karim Boudiaf, born in Rueil-Malmaison and trained in Lorient and AS Nancy-Lorraine. Spotted very young, this 32-year-old defensive midfielder joined Qatari club Al Duhail in 2010 and celebrated his first cap with Qatar three years later. He now has 108 selections, for 5 goals.
We also find Boualem Khoukhi, born in Algeria and who started at JSM Chéraga alongside a certain Islam Slimani. Left very young in Qatar and never really approached by the Algerian Federation, he honored his first selection at 23 years old in 2013 and now has 105 (for 20 goals).
Same course for the Portuguese defender of Cape Verdean origin Pedro Miguel ‘Ró-Ró’, who left his country very young to join Qatar in 2010 and who is now a captain of the Qatari rearguard. the attacker Mohammad Muntari born in Ghana and trained at the Golden Lions Soccer Academy, he also joined Qatar very early, at the age of 18, in 2012. Finally, striker Ahmed Alaaeldin has a somewhat special background since he was born in Egypt and arrived in Qatar at the age of 10 to follow his father, an engineer.
There are also elements born in Sudan (Assim Madibo, Almoez Ali and Musaab Khidir), in Iraq (Mohammed Waad and Bassam Al-Rawi), in Bahrain (Ali Asad and Salem Al-Hajri) and in Egypt (Mustafa Tarek Mashaal) but all of them grew up in Qatar and are therefore dual nationals more than naturalized players. It is up to coach Félix Sánchez Bas to bring this mosaic together!