IN November 2010, Argentina and Brazil played a friendly in Qatar. Lionel Messi, then 23, already a worldwide football superstar and Ballon d’Or winner, and Neymar, then an 18-year-old rising global sensation, were on the pitch at the Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium. Over a decade later, the duo will now play together for a Qatari-owned club, a year before Qatar stages the most important sporting event ever within the Gulf.
Messi’s move to Paris St Germain after leaving Barcelona seems to be the ultimate piece within the jigsaw for Qatar’s showcase club in its quest to win the prize it most covets — the Champions League. But it extends beyond that. And to November 2022, when Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup . During his time at Barca, Messi played and won titles in jerseys that had Qatar Foundation and Qatar Airways emblazoned on them, but this is often bigger.
Messi playing and lifting trophies for the club owned by Qatar is that the biggest promotion the small , oil-rich state could’ve hoped for. One, the Qataris wouldn’t probably not even have thought of when Messi played in their country back in 2010, a couple of weeks before they were awarded the hosting rights for the planet Cup. Soon after, Qatar began sponsoring Barca through the Qatar Foundation, becoming the primary named sponsors to seem ahead of the players’ jerseys within the club’s history.
Then, in June 2011, Qatar Sports Investments — owned by the oil-rich state — bought PSG during a move that was criticised by many as ‘sportswashing’, a practice describing how regimes use sport to launder their reputation, to gloss over miserable records on human rights. Fuelled by Qatar, PSG immediately set their sights on winning the Champions League and stepping into the ecu elite. Neymar was signed from Barca for a record fee in 2017 to realize that and that they almost got there in 2020, once they lost the ultimate to Bayern Munich. Now, they need signed Messi.
“The Messi deal isn’t almost Messi … it’s about Qatar and 2022,” Professor Simon Chadwick, the director of the Eurasian sports centre at France’s Emlyon graduate school told Dawn on Wednesday, minutes after Messi’s signing was confirmed by PSG. “It’s a very important year for the Qataris, obviously staging the planet Cup and if PSG can successfully win the Champions League in May, it’ll be a crucial milestone within the national development of Qatar as a rustic .
“Sports, and specifically football, are an integral a part of the country’s vision and development plan. this is often a return on investment. If winning the Champions League and hosting the planet Cup are achieved within the same year, it’ll be job finished the Qatar government. it’ll even have a political impact in terms of profile, the image and therefore the reputation of Qatar, which we all know is keen to create the country’s brand and project soft power.”
Like the Champions League for PSG, the planet Cup has proven elusive for Messi. By Qatar 2022, Messi would be 35, and it might be, perhaps, his last shot at winning it. There shouldn’t be any concerns about his age though. The years haven’t slowed him down. In July, after an extended season with Barca, Messi lifted his first trophy with Argentina when he lead the side to the Copa America title.
Messi’s quest to win the planet Cup and attain sporting immortality is that the storyline that matches in perfectly with Qatar, like all other previous tournament hosts, trying to overcome the hearts and minds of the planet . His arrival comes about eight months since the remainder of the center East restored diplomatic ties with Qatar. But signing Argentina before Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City, the sole other club which could afford him, may be a statement by PSG’s ownership.
“There may be a lot of messaging in it,” James Dorsey, a researcher at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and author of ‘The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer’, told Dawn on Wednesday. “But I don’t think it’s as big a press release as when Neymar was signed by PSG because the very beginning of the diplomatic breakdown between Qatar and therefore the remainder of the center East. Diplomatic ties are restored but Qatar and therefore the United Arab Emirates are still not as cordial and getting Messi before City may be a big thing statement; a feather within the cap before the planet Cup.”
Messi’s two-year affect PSG will expire six months after the planet Cup in Qatar ends. But Dorsey says that Qatar will have reaped the advantages by then.
“Looking beyond the planet Cup, there’s no doubt that football as a soft power makes tons of sense,” he said. “Mega events are few and much between but there are numerous soft power opportunities in Europe, for instance winning the Champions League. Qatar will look to create on this and naturally its next move are going to be to undertake and host the Olympics.”
Chadwick believes Messi signing for PSG ‘was inevitable’, tracing it back thereto 2010 friendly, and to the beginning of Qatar’s sponsorship of Barca after winning the planet Cup hosting bid. Since then, Pep Guardiola, Barca’s revolutionary coach, became a Qatar 2022 ambassador. Barca’s midfield maestro Xavi Hernandez decided to wind down his career in Qatar, also becoming a World Cup ambassador and may be a coach at Qatari club Al Sadd. Neymar and Messi have now been reunited in Paris.
“The lineage of what’s just happened are often drawn all of the way back thereto point,” he reckoned, albeit he says it came out of the blue after Barca announced they might not afford Messi due to their financial state. “There is Barca DNA altogether of this. there’s a relationship between PSG and Qatar and one between the Qataris and Barca. So this is often almost sort of a chronicle of a signing foretold. there’s something serendipitous about all of this because if you’ve got a rustic that holds a club that’s trying to win the CL during a particular year, if you get the chance to sign a player which will enhance the prospect of you doing that then obviously you’re likely to try to to it. it’s intended to be a tangible contribution to not just Qatar’s footballing goals but also national development goals.”
Qatar winning the proper to host the planet Cup was never universally accepted. Since being awarded the event, Qatar’s World Cup organisers are rejecting allegations of bribing FIFA officials to secure the rights. they need staved off all of them, including the criminal indictment by the US Department of Justice accusing three senior FIFA officials of receiving bribes for voting in favour of the Gulf state hosting the tournament, and clung on to the planet Cup. They’ve also thwarted international scrutiny over rights of migrant workers building the venues for the planet Cup also as protests by several national teams in Europe about concerns over human rights in Qatar.
“There has been labour reforms introduced since but in fact there are several different views,” says Dorsey. “The International Labour Organisation and trade unions are positive and while Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are critical, their stance isn’t an equivalent because it was before. in fact you’ll say Qatar’s initial response was a multitude but they got their communications and marketing together during the diplomatic breakdown and they’re now approaching the finishing line .”
Now, they need Messi to require them over it.