Strong league to fuel Qatar's Asia ambition, says chief

The energy exporter is the world’s richest country per capita and has used its dizzying wealth to become a major force in soccer

Published: Updated:

Qatar’s soccer league chief hopes a close alliance with the national team can help the country improve its international performance following a disappointing Asian Cup this year.

The energy exporter is the world’s richest country per capita and has used its dizzying wealth to become a major force in soccer - at least off the pitch.

Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup, its riches have propelled Paris Saint Germain into Europe’s club elite and broadcaster BeIn Sports has bought the rights to many of soccer’s major competitions.

On-field success has proved more elusive for a country where less than a fifth of the 2.3 million population are thought to be locals and Qatar’s FIFA world ranking of 109 reflects its toils at January’s Asian Cup where it lost all three group matches.

“It’s very important for us to become a consistent football force in Asia, which we’re really striving to be,” Qatar Stars League chief executive Hani Taleb Ballan told Reuters.

“Until now we haven’t achieved that, so it’s normal to see us sometimes lose. We as a league should be a strong tool to support the national team.”

Ballan said Qatar’s aim was to be among Asia’s top four from its current 13th position.

He hopes the league’s innovations can support that ambition, with all 11 starters in Qatar’s final Asian Cup group match playing for domestic teams. Six of those were foreign-born.

The league claims to be the only domestic competition to provide free Prozone performance analysis to clubs, while club licences require them to have at least four youth teams, a reserve team and highly-trained coaches.

“We’re trying to improve the professionalism by supporting clubs technically,” said Ballan. “Coaching is quite independent, but we can control certification of coaching.”

Qatar qualified for FIFA’s 2015 under-20 World Cup after winning last year’s Asian under-19 championship and Ballan hopes the bulk of this side will be turning out in 2022.

“It’s a good team ... there are players in the under-17 team with very good potential and a mixture of the two will be a great combination,” he said.

Qatar’s clubs have struggled in the Asian Champions League. Al Sadd lifted the trophy in 2011, but the country’s clubs have reached the quarter-finals just twice this decade.

After two games of this year’s competition, Lekhwiya lie bottom of Group A, while Al Sadd top Group C on four points.

“I’m very optimistic Al Sadd and Lekhwiya will qualify for the next round,” added Ballan.