To kick off the series, our correspondent down under presents a look at the current state and recent history of the national league of the World Cup's 2022 destination, Qatar:
The football world has had some time to digest the news that Qatar will be hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. On December 2, 2010 the nation with 1.7 million people became the smallest country ever chosen to host the event.
The cycle of emotion since was a psychiatrist’s dream and a textbook example of Kubler-Ross’ Grief Model:
One – Denial: “This can’t be happening”.
Two – Anger: “It’s a fix! Someone must have bribed Blatter!”
Three: Bargaining: “Can’t you change it to a Winter schedule because of the heat?”
Four – Depression: “What’s the point – I’m boycotting all curries from now on.”
Five – Acceptance: “We can’t change it – we may as well prepare for it.”
With the final action of acceptance, the world’s football fanatics could at least learn something about football in Qatar. Welcome to the Qatar Stars League, or QSL, the highest professional league in Qatar with a 12 team format and a Second Division with just 6 teams. Originally formed in 1963 the competition encompasses a League format and 4 individual domestic cups.
With seven out of the twelve teams based in Doha, the country’s capital is the axis of the competition and over its history has seen a return from its clubs of 36 titles out of the 45 on offer. The most popular and successful team are Al-Saad who were founded by four students in 1969. Unsurprisingly, the team was born and bred in Doha and their nickname translates to the clearly humble “The Boss”. Managed by former Argentine player and manager, Marcelo Bielsa, they were the first Arab team to win the Asian Champions League (1989) and have won a total of 12 domestic championships, finishing runners-up 4 times.
Despite a barren spell in the 1990’s they have since returned to winning ways and in 2007 achieved the domestic quadruple, again a first for a Qatari team. “Second” is not usually a word that is recognised in Al-Saad fans’ vocabulary.
That is, until their bitter rivals pitched up in Doha. The current heir to Al-Saad’s throne are the relatively younger Al-Gharafa, another Doha-based outfit formed in 1979. Between the two they have won the last seven titles with Al-Gharafa, or “The King”, winning the last three in a row.
With most clubs being owned by Royalty and funded by the proceeds of the oil-rich nation, the QSL has managed to attract high profile players nearing retirement but only for a year or two at most. France great Marcel Desailly, Brazilian striker Sonny Anderson and the housewives’ favorite, Argentinean goal-machine Gabriel Batistuta have all plied their trade in Qatar in the last decade.
Undoubtedly the current shining light of the QSL is the finest set-piece taker in the world, former Lyon midfielder and Brazil international Juninho Pernambucano. Since June 2009 he has ensured that Al-Gharafa have maintained their recent dominance, and they look set to do so for years to come. Juninho is the centrepiece of a growing Brazilian and African contingent in the League supplementing the mainly Arab player-base.
With expansion from nine clubs to twelve, the League has not escaped controversy. It was announced on the 15 April 2009 that no clubs would be relegated from the top flight in the 2008-2009 season due to the impending expansion. This would cause waves in itself in any league in the world but remarkably this was announced with only one game of the season remaining.
So where will the QSL be when the footballing world converges upon Qatar in 2022? With huge attention being placed on the nation over the next ten years this will almost certainly bring mass investment, advertising, new infrastructure and billions of Riyal’s to line the already overflowing pockets of the orchestrators of the league. An expansion from twelve teams will be inevitable and despite strict Islamic behavioural laws you can expect to see some big names swapping the milder climes of Europe for the shiny new land of Qatar. Wayne Rooney will fit in perfectly then.