It was a matter of when, not if, but last week Akram Afif's highly-anticipated return to Spanish football was finally confirmed. The prodigiously talented 19-year-old attacker could become the first Qatari to play in La Liga, signing a four-year-deal with Villarreal. Afif has already trained in Spain after short term spells at Villarreal and Sevilla.
This year's Europa League semi-finalists finished fourth in the Spanish top-flight and will compete in the Champions League qualifiers next season. If Afif features, he would be the first Qatar national to play in Europe's premier club competition. “I'm very happy to sign for Villarreal, they are a big team and one of the best teams in Spain,” he said in an interview with Qatar's governing body.
“I hope I can learn a lot of things in the next years from the players and the coaches with the club. I know some of the players in the team and the city is very nice so I hope that I can do something for the team. Villarreal will play the Champions League next season so we’ll try to be a difficult team to beat in La Liga and go as far as we can in all competitions. I haven’t started training yet at Villarreal, but when I do I want to play for the first team and I hope to compete for a place.”
While there's a perception cemented in European media, that Qatar will simply naturalise foreign players ahead of the 2022 World Cup, Afif is busting those myths. But the forward, comfortable on the left or right, who plays for Belgian side S.V. Eupen – the club is tied as a development club to the Aspire network – has been nurtured in a Spanish-inspired football culture.
Through the nascent connections between Spain and Qatar, Afif and his compatriots are trained by coaches educated in the country of the European champions. Qatar's U23 and U20 teams are coached by Felix Sanchez, while Oscar Fernandez controls the U17 group. The Aspire Academy in Doha, a multi-billion dollar sports complex assembling the best knowledge and talent possible, has a notable Spanish influence, especially in football.
With Afif starring, Qatar's youth teams under Sanchez have enjoyed unprecedented success in recent seasons. The style of football is influenced by Spain, a possession-based game which utilises combination play and skilful attackers. In his trips back to Doha to join his national team colleagues, Afif has maximised the opportunity to learn from arguably Barcelona's most iconic player of the generation.
Xavi Hernandez signed for Al-Sadd in 2015 – Afif's former club, which is connected to the Aspire Academy – and the youngster admitted that he has picked the brains of the Barca legend about a possible move to Spain.
“Xavi is a big player and he gives me advice about how I can improve," said the teenager. "Everyone knows that Xavi is one of the best players in the world. I am inspired by a lot of players from the Spanish league, Messi, Cristiano, Neymar, Iniesta, I like Denis Suarez at Villarreal, and they also have some of the best defenders in the world like Sergio Ramos.”
نستخدم ملفات الكوكيز لنسهل عليك استخدام مواقعنا الإلكترونية ونكيف المحتوى والإعلانات وفقا لمتطلباتك واحتياجاتك الخاصة، لتوفير ميزات وسائل التواصل الاجتماعية ولتحليل حركة المرور لدينا...اعرف أكثر