The Rise of Big Money Transfers in Qatar
It started before the bid for the 2022 World Cup was submitted. A tournament which isn’t just the biggest football competition in the world, but also could benefit the host nation by providing an infrastructure including improved transfer links, greater football stadia and in the case of Qatar, hoping to boost the little known domestic competition known as the Qatar Stars League. But now, eight years ahead of hosting the most coveted trophy, the oil-rich country have added big additions within their League as they aim to boost their global appeal.
The Qatari Stars League is the highest division within the country, being made up of 14 different teams with one of them being relegated each season. Before looking at the development of transfers in Qatar, it’s important to consider how rapid the expansion has been. Since 2009, the top flight has been expanded from 12 places to 14, whilst the second division has increased from only five clubs to a much greater 18 teams. Not only does this allow for greater competition within the league, it also aims to boost the measly attendances which Qatari football atrracts, as shown by a scheme they introduced many years ago for only one year, where all draws would be settled by penalty shootouts. It had a pre-seasoneque vibe about it.
Yet it was almost 10 years later in 2003 when the Qatari officials put their money on the table, $10 million of it to be precise, and to each of the ten clubs which made up the Q-League at that time to spend on attracting big players. They all followed suit. Argentina’s record goalscorer Gabriel Batistuta joined Al-Arabi at the age of 34 for one last payout, where it is believed he made around $8 million over 21 games, scoring 25 goals and breaking goalscoring records in the process. Batistuta earned an eye-watering $380,952 per game. According to inflation statistics, that is equivalent to $492,000 a week in 2014 and over $25 million per year. In relative terms, only Bale, Falcao, Neymar, Ronaldo, Messi and Ibrahimovic earn more. Needless to say, the rise of the transfers in the Qatari League have been a long term coming.
Other players to have performed their trade in the heat of the Arab country include World Cup winners Frank Leboeuf and Romario, as well as Champions League winners Pep Guardiola, Ronald and Frank De Boer.
But now in 2014 many more high quality players have been lured to the mega-rich Qatari League. Whilst they fail to emualte the achievements which the former players of 2003 brought with them, the All-Stars division now has more players who would be recognised by the Western audience. This can be shown by the top goalscoring records of the division. In the 10 years before the big investment in 2003, there were 3 winners of the Golden Boot from Qatar, whilst since 2003, there has been only one called Sebastian Soria who currently plays for Lekhiwya SC, the club managed by Michael Laudrup, a man who won league titles with Juventus, Ajax, Real Madrid and Barcelona before managing in the Premier League with Swansea and leading them to their only major trophy in 2013 and leading them into Europe.
If you look at the players the Qatari league currently hosts, there are quite a few recognisable names including Chico Flores and Pablo Hernandez who recently left Swansea, Brazilian duo Nilmar and Nene, former Lyon striker Lisandro Lopez, Portuguese and Valencia defender Ricardo Costa and also Ashkan Dejagah who recently left relegated Fulham. Other recent players include the legendary Raul and Harry Kewell to name but a couple.
Whilst these transfers are eye-catching, there is no doubt that in the coming years more players will start to move to Qatar as footballers look for one last pay-out. Xavi and Frank Lampard were recently linked but denied the move, but as soon as the Qatari’s ambitious plans begin to expand begin to gain momentum, it is likely to be a viable option in the future, especially if the World Cup aims to help develop the Qatari infrastructure like it plans. The expansion plans in Qatar are only going to get bigger with football attendances following the World Cup having the potential to double. For example, Al Wakrah currently has a stadium capacity of 20,000 but that is set to double to 43,500 following the tournament in 2022. Al Rayyan has a capacity of only 21,000 but again that is to reach 44,000 once the tournament is completed in 8 years time. Not only will the World Cup improve the standard of stadiums within the country, but it will also provide new stadiums which could potentially lead to even more teams being created. The Lusail Iconic Stadium will be a huge 86,000 capacity which will host the opening and closing games of the World Cup, and after this will be converted into a 20,000 seated football-orientated arena allowing the Qatari Leagues to possibly expand even further.
As you can see, the Qatari League is currently playing catch-up with the likes of the MLS and the Chinese League in regards to global appeal. But, with new stadiums being planned, big names fleeing to be in the All-Stars League and also mega-wealthy owners seeing the possible potential in the billionaire’s playground known as football ownership, it would not be a shock to see Qatar attract many more big names in the future as they hope to take advantage of the foundations which the 2022 World Cup will provide.
Written by Matt Davis