Try The Athletic for FREE for 30 days:
📗 Tifo's new book, “How to Watch Football” is now available to pre-order internationally:
In the 2nd episode of our Qatar World Cup Explained series – we look at Qatar’s aspirations to grow as a footballing nation, how they tried and failed with naturalisation, and how by watching others invest in the global game Qatar plan to transform their own economy.
Leaning into football legends Maradona & Pele to open their Aspire Academy, this set the pace for Qatar's grand footballing aspirations and their eventual route to hosting the biggest football tournament in the world.
Written by James Montague and illustrated by Alice Devine.
Follow Tifo Football:
Listen to the Tifo Football podcast:
The Athletic UK:
Watch more Tifo Football: Tactics Explained:
Finances & Laws:
Tifo Football Podcast:
Most Recent Videos:
1 Popular Videos:
About Tifo Football:
Tifo loves football. We create In-depth tactical, historical and geopolitical breakdowns of the beautiful game.
We know there’s an appetite for thoughtful, intelligent content. For stuff that makes the complicated simple.
We provide analysis on the Premier League, Champions League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, World Cup and more.
Our podcasts interview some of the game’s leading figures. And our editorial covers football with depth and insight.
Founded in 2017 and became a part of The Athletic in 2020. For business inquiries, reach out to
Music sourced from epidemicsound.com
Additional footage sourced from freestockfootagearchive.com
Pele in Maradona walked out onto the Stage to a thousand flashing bulbs it Was November the 17th 2005 and the two Greatest players the world had ever seen Embraced in front of a packed crowd Now this was unusual for a number of Reasons firstly the fact that the two Men were embracing at all there had been A long time enmity between the two over Who was really the greatest player of All time inflamed by FIFA's botched Attempt to put the issue to a public Vote Maradona easily won but FIFA Introduced a second equal establishment Award for the more clean-cut Pele Maradona was Furious and had never Forgotten it Secondly few thought Maradona would be Alive to be there a year before Maradona Was on death's door after years of Cocaine abuse he was puzzlingly also Morbidly obese but his friend Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro stepped in and Offered him a place in a renowned Rehab Clinic outside Havana after battling his Demons and after a stomach stapling Operation in Venezuela he was Miraculously back to looking something Like the Mercurial Little Wizard who'd Graced the world stage years before And finally the Embrace took place in Doha more specifically the Aspire Dome At the time the world's largest indoor Sports dome it had just been opened by
Emir Hamad and was so vast that it could Host 13 sports events at the same time Including a running track 50 meter Olympic pool and a FIFA approved Full-sized pitch that included room for 5 000 Spectators it was the centerpiece Of the newly minted Aspire Academy the Multi-billion dollar project designed to Find and nurture Elite Sports Talent Especially elite football Talent from Qatar the Middle East and around the Globe and Pele and Maradona were paid Millions of dollars to open it in front Of the world's press And at the time the various journalists And dignitaries were there only for the Pele and Maradona show the Aspire Academy was little more than an Afterthought presumed to be a hugely Expensive Leisure Center that would no Doubt in time become a white elephant in The desert but instead a Spire would Grow to become a central figure in the Next chapter of qatar's History one that Would use sport as a nation-building Tool and utilize a Spire in its Seemingly quixotic efforts to host a Major International Sports tournament be That an Olympic Games or a World Cup Finals but on that day in November that Ambition seemed ridiculous as Maradona Shocked the crowd by talking about his Formerly prodigious cocaine consumption Railing against the press in third
Person for wanting to kill Maradona and Comparing himself to Osama bin Laden but That ambition wouldn't seem ridiculous For long The Bremen supporters loved Elton Gonsalves de Silva the Brazilian Striker Signed for the Bundesliga Club in 1998 And always looked a little bit Overweight but he was powerful and Charismatic and prone to madcap Flourishes it was rumored for instance That he would spend a hundred thousand Euros a month on clothes and he always Gave Unforgettable interviews that Segued from Portuguese to German and Back Again leaving one journalist Interviewing him flummoxed Because of his large frame and Surprising Pace he was nicknamed Kugelblitz the German word for ball Lightning sometimes called sin Elmo's Fire One day he would play as if he was the Best forward in the world and the next Day he couldn't be bothered to turn up For training But then in 2003 it all came together Alton was taking the Bundesliga by storm By 2004 he'd scored 28 Bundesliga goals And won the league and cut double for Verdera big European clubs started to Take notice Still despite being one of Europe's Deadliest Strikers aylton was ignored by
The Brazilian fa and was never called up For the national team but there was one Country that was paying attention in March 2004 Elton along with fellow Brazilian Brothers DeDe and Leandro who Were playing for Borussia Dortmund Arrived in Doha after receiving an Intriguing proposal from the Qatari Royal family come and play for the Qatar National team As the world got smaller and people's Histories became more complicated Naturalizations became much more Commonplace and ketta as many smaller Nations had done but also utilized Naturalizations to make their national Team more competitive Despite having got to within one goal of Qualifying for both Italian 90 and France 98 Qatar had not yet qualified For World Cup finals According to Frenchman Philippe trossier Qatar's national team coach at the time Naturalization was probably the only Means to one day qualify Qatar for a World Cup naturalizations are nothing New to Qatar eighty percent of my squad Were not born in Qatar And they had already spent huge sums of Money attracting big stars at the end of Their careers to come to the country Play in the Q league and raise the Standard of the players around them Marcel Desai Gabriel bettastuta the
Deboer brothers and Pep Guardiola were All enticed to Doha but nothing worked And qatar's national team stubbornly Refused to improve This tactic was different Elton was Offered a million dollars up front and Nearly half a million dollars a year to Play for the national team and help them Qualify for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany and of course he jumped at the Chance Brazil does not want me he said When he got to Qatar Germany is not Prepared to take me and that's why I Have decided to play for Qatar which Appreciates me I want to fulfill my Dream to play for a national team But Alton's dream never happened FIFA Was appalled that a rudimentary transfer System in international players was Being set up by Qatar FIFA president Seth blatter was Furious and said Stopping the move was a top priority for Him it's against the spirit of the game And FIFA will aim at curbing this Practice we will meet with football and Legal Specialists to discuss the matter This week and they did Qatar had pushed The rules to Breaking Point FIFA stepped In and banned the practice was a hugely Embarrassing moment for the country Two months later Emir Hamad signed law Number 16 establishing the Academy of Sports Excellence Aspire this Established the Aspire Academy with one
Clear aim to achieve its qatar's Ambitions in sports competitions Regionally and globally within 18 months A state-of-the-art sports facility was Built and Pele and Maradona were Gallivanting on a stage together Aspire embarked on a campaign to scout Every single potential young player in Qatar visiting every school and holding Trials for Qatari kids as young as six Not content with that they launched Football dreams a 100 million dollar Scouting project looking for the most Promising children around the world over A seven year period 3.5 million young Boys were screened just 20 would be Offered a full scholarship each year and Football dreams was highly controversial Critics said that Qatar was plundering African and Regional talent and taking It to Qatar in the hope of circumventing The tough new naturalization laws that Their own behavior had prompted in the First place Qatar denied that saying That it was a humanitarian project and That no one would be compelled to Represent Qatar But it did Mark a brand new strategic Policy direction for the country one Where Sport and football would become Part of government policy and part of The nation building process the qataris Had also formulated a cunning plan Rather than pump billions into expensive
Advertising campaigns allow sport to Promote your country's brand for you Instead although they hadn't exactly Come up with the idea all by themselves The UAE and especially Dubai had been Particularly successful in leveraging Sport to advertise itself to the world Dubai was one of the uae's seven ruling Emirates with Abu Dhabi the seat of Power From the 1990s under the effective rule Of its Young western-friendly Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-maktoum Focused on trade he also oversaw Dubai's Remarkable transformation while his shy Brother Sheikh maktoum bin Rashid Al-maktoum was technically in charge Until his death in 2006. it marketed Itself to a global audience as a glitzy Place to live by property and holiday Despite being part of a rigidly Islamic Legal system and whose summer months Were too hot to even step outside in It was a necessary economic move Abu Dhabi had most of the oil 95 of the Country's oil reserves which in itself Made up between seven and nine percent Of the entire world's oil reserves and It also had the real power Dubai's Reserves were tiny in comparison and Would soon run out by 2006 just six Percent of Dubai's economy was dependent On hydrocarbons Dubai like Qatar had to Prepare for a post-hydrocarbon world
And Dubai had achieved incredible International exposure with the help of Sport they hosted the world's most Expensive horse race the Dubai World Cup There was a PGA Tour event where Tiger Woods regularly appeared and the Dubai Tennis Championship where Roger Federer Regularly won titles Dubai's name and that of its state-owned Companies like Emirates Airline started Appearing on football shirts and on Football grounds in Europe Emirates Airline had been at one time or another The main shirt sponsors of Chelsea Arsenal PSG Real Madrid Benfica and AC Milan it was a major sponsor of FIFA and The World Cup as well as the world's Oldest competition the English FA Cup Emirates paid over 250 million pounds a Huge sum at the time to secure the Naming rights of Arsenal stadium until 2028 And in 2007 it went a step further when Sheikh Mohammed a Man Who Loved horse Racing and had spent millions of pounds Building the godolphin Racing Stables in Newmarket attempted to purchase Liverpool FC using a sovereign Investment vehicle Dubai investment Capital it was seen as the next logical Step soft power and promotion through Football Sheikh Mohammed the absolute Ruler of Dubai vice president of the UAE And one of the richest men in the world
Had seen the benefits of owning a Football club and using it to enhance Brand Dubai and the purchase of Chelsea By Roman Abramovich had changed the game The huge amounts of money spent Transforming Chelsea into Champions with Little regard for profit or loss had Never been seen before the Premier League as well as the UEFA Champions League had attracted a new generation of Billionaire owners from the US Asia the Middle East and beyond all attracted to The huge Global popularity of soccer Not to mention the booming TV rights Deals which they rightly predicted would Continue to increase in value they saw Soccer as the biggest and most effective Advertising real estate in the world Whether you were selling shoes holidays Or a new vision of your country and Buying Liverpool would be the biggest Coup yet But the sale never happened the club Instead turned to two American Billionaires Tom Hicks and George Gillette who would have a brief Buck Disastrous ownership of the club before Being forced out Still thanks in no small part to Celebrity sporting endorsements Dubai Had put itself on the map then Qatar Decided to follow suit with its own Tennis Championship the Qatar Open golf Tournament and most importantly of all
It's star packed Football League Qatar Even managed to win the bid to host the 2006 Asian Games the smallest country Ever to do so and it floated the idea of Bidding for something bigger the World Cup finals perhaps or even the Olympic Games but the thorny issue of the desert Heat seemed to make it impossible Much of the investment appeared to fail Qatar didn't qualify for the 2006 or 2010 World Cup finals the 2006 Asian Games were a disaster after torrential Rain created such hazardous conditions That several fans were killed in car Accidents on their way to an event while A South Korean equestrian rider was Killed when his horse slipped in the mud A prison ship had to be brought in to House some of the competitors due to a Hotel shortage And the Q League had also lost its Luster big names were no longer coming To play after announcing its plans to Host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Doha which they proposed could be moved To the slightly cooler month of October The city didn't even make the shortlist When it was announced Qatar also failed To become a candidate City for the 2020 Games But the world was about to experience a New shock that would again turn Everything on its head In 2008 the world was careering towards
A Global Financial meltdown triggered by Toxic mortgages in the U.S When it hit and asset prices tumbled Globally Dubai was hugely exposed the Emirate had largely relied on real Estate and debt to fuel its Great Leap Forward while Abu Dhabi had the actual Money in the bank from years of high oil Prices Dubai's economy cheated on collapse and A humiliating bailout had to be brokered With Abu Dhabi The UAE president Sheikh Khalifa Convened a meeting between Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed and the Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed a 10 billion Dollar bailout was agreed In return Sheikh Mohammed agreed to name His prestigious new building project Burj Dubai the tallest building in the World the Burj Khalifa Meanwhile Abu Dhabi went on a spending Spree sensing that there were Bargains To be had they'd watched Dubai's Attempted purchase of Liverpool closely And in August 2008 Sheikh man saw bin Zaidel-9 the uae's Deputy Prime Minister And brother of the Crown Prince Announced that he was buying Manchester City A few days later City finalized the Purchase of Brazilian International Rubinio for a then staggering 32.5 Million pounds just before the transfer
Window shut when it opened again in the Following January the club spent another 50 million pounds In 2011 City made the largest single Season loss in the history of English Football 197 million pounds but also achieved Phenomenal success on the pitch all the While playing in shirts and in a Stadium Named after Etihad Airways the uae's State-owned airline Abu Dhabi would no Longer be in the shadow of his glitzier Neighbor And although Shake Mansour has always Claimed that city was a personal project And not a state-owned club it was still Every bit as transformational as Abramovich's arrival in 2003. the people Brought in to run Manchester city with The same people that ran Abu dhabi's Political Affairs and its multi-billion Dollar investment vehicles now football Clubs were a matter of State football Was about to begin The Sovereign age one Which Qatar was soon to join The financial crisis had not affected Qatar with its vast gas deposits it was Inoculated from the economic Contagion And like Abu Dhabi they went on a Shopping spree of their own buying up Marquee Assets in Paris London and Beyond And in 2009 it embarked on its greatest Project of all launching a long shot bid
To host the 2022 World Cup finals we are Serious about winning the right to host The FIFA World Cup in the Arab world for The first time said Hassan al-tawadi the Young chief executive chosen to run the Bid we're offering FIFA an incredible Event with a tremendous football Legacy But also a legacy for Humanity Qatar 2022 can be a watershed moment And their 2022 bid was a seductive one It talked of unity in the Middle East of Using zero carbon cooling technology to Combat the heat the flat-packed stadiums That would be taken down and rebuilt in Africa but to most of the rest of the World it seemed ridiculous how could Such a tiny country just 50 miles across Host a World Cup who would build it how Could you play a tournament in the Summer heat when it can reach 50 degrees Even with air-conditioned stadiums and Having never qualified for a World Cup Before what kind of team would they have No one believed that the World Cup would Come to Qatar If you like this video please consider Subscribing to the channel [Music]