Qatar Football Dreams: Is it a humanitarian project or a scheme to buy Africa's best players?

The stadium scene.
Sept. 14 2011 12:28 AM

Qatar's Football Dreams

Is the country's standout soccer academy a humanitarian project or a scheme to buy Africa's best players?

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Football Dreams fits in with Qatar's focus on achieving economic growth and international recognition through sport. While Aspire's on-field success and the Football Dreams story have earned Qatar worldwide renown, the Qataris could presumably launch a humanitarian project that would represent a more efficient use of their money. And if elevating African soccer is the goal, investments in playing fields, coaching programs, or equipment would do more to benefit the continent than sending a handful of players to an academy.

As it is, Qatar reserves its resources for the select few. The recruits play against elite opposition every weekend during the school year and travel to international youth tournaments each summer. Manchester United's Milk Cup squad likely knew exactly what it was in for, as the teams face off in Qatar with some regularity. Occasionally, United's first team will come along, their superstars mentoring Aspire's protégées. Since Aspire has no professional affiliation, the world's best academies are willing to share their training procedures and tactics. Aspire also has the money to attract the game's big thinkers. Along with Man U, Barcelona and AC Milan have also made the long trip to Doha.

While the first class in the Football Dreams program has yet to graduate, Aspire's players are slowly assimilating into the international soccer scene. Ibrahima Drame recently represented Senegal at the under-17 level, but he won't be tied to that country's squad until he makes his competitive, first-team debut. Qatar's qualification for the 2014 World Cup is far from secure, and Drame—should the Qataris offer him citizenship—would likely upgrade his new country's forward line. Will he stay with Senegal or suit up for Qatar? Once Drame makes his choice, the real motives behind the world's most ambitious experiment in player development will become clear.

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Correction, Sept. 15, 2011: This piece originally stated that nearly one-quarter of soccer players in Europe are African. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Brian Blickenstaff is a freelance writer. He lives in Germany. Follow him on twitter: @BKBlick