Friday, 25 March 2016

Qatar and naturalization

The Qatari national team is or has been going down the road of naturalization for many years now. It's a potentially murky precedent for international football as down the years they have been looking at players who haven't played or in reality set foot on Qatari soil. The justification that Qatar gives is that they are a country built by foreigners and that there isn't enough talent in the local population to be competitive on the international scene.

Qatar's naturalization of players rose to prominence in 2004 when they were short in the striking department. They were looking for a striker to fire them to the 2006 world cup and none of the striking options at the time provided them with that. It emerged that they made contact with a Brazilian striker enjoying a fantastic season in Germany. Aílton was taking the 2003-04 Bundesliga by storm and it was his goals that fired Werder Bremen to the title. The Qatari authorities were suitably impressed and offered him the chance to play international football, something he realistically wasn't going to achieve with his home nation Brazil. Aílton accepted the offer but a few weeks later FIFA declared he was ineligible to play under new rules bought in to stop national teams effectively buying players for their sides.

Aílton was wanted by Qatar
Aílton then 30 had given up hope of playing for Brazil. He was reportedly offered €1.4 million to play for the Gulf state. €1 million in a signing on fee and €400k per year. However he wasn't the only Bundesliga player they were looking at. Borussia Dortmund's Dédé was also offered a similar deal along with his brother Leandro. The new rules bought in to prevent this sort of situation happening put an end to the trio's hopes of lining up for Qatar. 

That wasn't the end of the controversy surrounding Qatar. Four years later they managed to naturalize another Brazilian, but this time it was different. Local side Al-Sadd offered their Brazilian winger Emerson Qatari citizenship after playing two different spells in the Stars league so they could accommodate a foreign signing. That seemingly made Emerson eligible for Qatar since he made no appearances for the Brazilian national side. He made his debut for Qatar in a friendly against Bahrain before taking the field in a world cup qualifier against Iraq. However that was to be the only competitive game
Emerson in his only competitive game
source: Noushad Thekkayil/European Pressphoto Agency
Emerson would play for Qatar. A month later in April 2008 it was revealed that Emerson was in fact ineligible despite gaining Qatari citizenship. He had played for Brazil's under-20 side which FIFA stated ruled him ineligible. As a result, Qatar had breached rules regarding ineligible players but were allowed to remain competing for a 2010 world cup spot as Iraq's file of complaint was sent in too late for FIFA to disqualify Qatar. 

Qatar were more successful with the naturalization of Uruguayan Sebastián Soria. Soria joined Qatari side Al-Gharafa in 2004 and by 2006 he was playing with the Qatari national team. He was given Qatari citizenship after two years playing in the country and was eligible since he made no appearances for any of Uruguay's national sides. Soria is now Qatar's 4th highest ever goalscorer with 29 goals to date and is part of the sides quest to qualify for the 2018 world cup. 

Other naturalized players to play for Qatar are the likes of Fábio César, Luiz Júnior, Lawrence Quaye and in the current squad Dame Traoré, Amine Lecomte, Mohammed Muntari and Boualem Khoukhi. 
Qatar in 2004 launched the ASPIRE academy which was aimed at developing athletes for many sports including football. While there have been a few players to come through this system the naturalization route remains as Qatar's primary source of players. 

Qatar aren't alone in the whole naturalization of many players for the national team. Many African countries have been doing the same for years. The high profile example has been Equatorial Guinea with many Brazilians playing for them. Togo have gone down the route bringing in Brazilians, Many of Togo's naturalized players played when Brazilian coach Antônio Dumas fielded as many as six naturalized players in the qualification for the 2004 African cup of nations and the successful 2006 world cup qualification. In fact when Dumas later became coach of Equatorial Guinea he went down the same route to have eight naturalized players playing for him. 

It's not something that international football needs. We already have club transfers and that should be it. International football should be about players from a particular country doing that country proud. The last thing that international football needs is to mirror what the club game has become. Countries like Qatar, Equatorial Guinea and Togo should be focusing and developing their own players who actually will care about the shirt and country. We have a similar situation in Ireland where some players born in England will have given up the dream of playing for the English national side and throw their lot in for the Irish side instead. These players then take up spots in the national side that could've been taken by locally born players who have the life long desire to play for the country and not when in their mid twenties decid they are Irish. 

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