WITH Qatar’s naturalisation policy, carried out by spending huge money and at the expense of local talents, having failed to yield the desired results, there are whispers that the Qatar Football Association (QFA) may stop it altogether with immediate effect or do away with it gradually, reducing the number of naturalised players in the national team.
Having won only one match out of five in the qualifying race to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, a lot of scorn has been heaped upon Qatar by its critics and the western media. It seems there is a realisation at the top of Qatar’s football administration that it is time to groom young Qatari talent, especially with the 2022 World Cup fast approaching.
Uruguyan coach Jorge Fossati, who was told about this plan by some football insiders in the country, however, is not for it. He believes that Qatar has enough reasons to believe they can still qualify for Russia and does not favour dropping naturalised players.
In an exclusive interview with Doha Stadium Plus, Fossati said he expected the QFA to make its stance clear on this when he sits down to discuss plans for the remaining half of 2018 World Cup qualification.
Qatar’s next match is against Iran at home on March 23. Al Annabi will play Uzbekistan away five days later.
Discouraging naturalisation will create more chances for youngsters groomed by the clubs and ASPIRE Academy. It will also create a level playing field in the Qatar Stars League as some naturalised players enjoy more privileges than a top-class overseas recruit as their passports have immense value among clubs.
Fossati felt the QFA could implement the policy in future, but made it explicitly clear that doing it immediately would dash Qatar’s hopes of making it to the Russia finals.
“I heard about a plan to exclude naturalised players and bring in more young Qatari players into the national team. It (discouraging naturalisation) is one point I don’t agree at this stage. I believe the rules in football are made by FIFA. In my opinion, all players who’re naturalised after fulfilling the world governing body’s norms should be treated on par with true Qatari players,” said Fossati.
Naturalised players currently form the backbone of Qatar’s national team. Despite facing criticism, the QFA persisted with the policy. However, its pride was hurt when Iran coach Carlos Queiroz came down heavily on the Qatar national team make-up and questioned the loyalty of naturalised players recently.
It may be recalled that Qatar’s handball team, comprising mostly naturalised players, also came under heavy criticism, with one western publication dubbing it as ‘United Nations of countries’.
Fossati said such criticisms are bound to come, but insisted that they should be dismissed as a ploy by Qatar’s rivals.
“People should know that Queiroz is our rival. He always looks for the best for his team and not Qatar. He’s a Portuguese, and even his country has players like Pepe, Nani who aren’t born there,” said Fossati.
“France became the world champions with many naturalised players. Germany too. They’re big countries. You just look at Qatar’s population. If Spain can naturalise Diego Costa, Qatar can have 30 of them,” he added.
“There isn’t a single player in our team who’s playing out of obligation. They’re there because they want to be there. And all of them are well within FIFA rules. This is the only thing we need to think of,” he added.
Fossati dropped a virtual bombshell when he said he might not continue if the QFA went ahead with its plans to cut the number of naturalised players.
“If the federation wants to go another way, I’ll respect its decision 100 per cent. And it’ll be better for the Qatar national team to have another coach who supports that view.
“Thinking about 2022, Qatar can start preparing themselves and enter the tournament with more Qatari players, thanks to the new generation that’s emerging. But not at present. It’s not a reality today. So we’ve to know whether we’re working for the future? If yes, then don’t ask me about the present. If we want to qualify for Russia, we need to use all the possibilities under the FIFA rules. We can have young Qataris like Akram (Afif), Salem (Al Hajri), Almoez (Ali) with us. But, at the same time, we must think about the results.
“I couldn’t talk about all these before I started my job because I didn’t have time. I had less than 24 hours to make a list when I took charge. Now is the time. I’m hundred per cent sure that the authorities want the best for the national team. I too want that because I love this country,” said Fossati, who replaced compatriot Daniel Carreno as Qatar coach towards the end of September.
When Fossati took charge, Annabi were last in Group A in the final round of 2018 World Cup qualification with two straight defeats. Since then, he has managed a win (against Syria) and draw (against China), losing only to South Korea. Ironically, Qatar’s best performance came in this match, when they let slip the advantage to go down 2-3.
As the 10-match final round reached the halfway mark, Qatar are fifth with four points, behind Iran (11), South Korea (10), Uzbekistan (nine) and Syria (five). China (two) are at the bottom.
Top two teams each from Group A and B (Japan, Australia, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Thailand) will book their berths at the Russia finals. However, the third-placed teams get another opportunity to have a crack at a slot through the play-offs. From the day he took charge, after Qatar lost their first two matches, Fossati has realistically set his sights on that longer route.